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Words July 14

by and

Once we civilized ‘em with a Krag. Now we euphemize ‘em with a Glock: “He said in the report that he pepper-sprayed the dog but ‘before I made it to the door I was met again by the dog, who was running towards me and had full intentions of attacking me again. Before the dog made it to me, I euphemized the animal with my .40-caliber Glock … ’ ” Police reports often contain odd usage, but I never before heard of “euphemized” being employed as a euphemism for “blew away.” Or as a euphemism for anything else, for that matter. I’d guess the officer was trying for “euthanized,” although that wouldn’t really fit either. Euthanasia is mercy killing, killing out of love. There was no love or mercy involved in this incident. Necessity, maybe. Plurals gone wild: “While friends say Doe was driven by a sense of duty, he never seemed to hesitate when it came to pursuing his own curiosities.” It’s faddish to pluralize nouns that don’t need to be plural. Generally, these forced plurals only clutter things up, interfering with clear communication. In the example, Doe possessed curiosity, which is “the desire to learn or know about anything.” There is no need to slice up that curiosity to apply to separate subjects: He was curious about shoes. He was also curious about ships, sealing wax, cabbages and kings. Those were his curiosities. Might as well say that he was driven by a sense of duties. Or senses of duties. In fact, the plural of curiosity causes you to think of another meaning of the word, one more suited for pluralization — “a curious, rare or novel thing.” Her shop contained curiosities from around the world. Some say that the excessive use of plurals became fashionable when psychobabblers began splitting behavior into behaviors. (Running around naked and firing a shotgun randomly were behaviors distasteful to his neighbors.) Maybe so, but the affectation quickly caught on in journalese, whose practitioners love the awkward and the unnecessary.

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