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Words, June 17



Candy is dandy, but E.T. never misses:

"The scene in E.T. where Elliot and E.T. are in quarantine and Elliott thinks E.T. is dead makes me ball every time. I think it's the very basic and unconditional love they have for each other that makes it so moving."

Very basic baseball:

"Sourdine just pitched lights out. He bared down and got the job done." Some years back, there was a major-league pitcher who was married to a stripper. He let her do all the baring.

Beau Dayshus writes:

"In a Vanity Fair article about Martin Amis, his friend comments that Amis once remarked that the title of Dickens' 'Our Mutual Friend' contains a solecism, that one can have common friends but not mutual ones. I checked Webster's to make certain I knew what a solecism was, but I'm still muddle-headed about the distinction between 'mutual' and 'common.' "

The Cambridge Guide to English Usage says:

"Common has numerous meanings, but it contrasts with mutual in emphasizing sharing rather than reciprocation in a relationship, as in common origin or common interest. Mutual involves reciprocity. Mutual satisfaction implies the satisfaction which two people give to each other, and mutual agreement emphasizes the fact that something is agreed to by both parties. ... Mutual has also long been used to refer to a reciprocal relationship which is enjoyed by more than one person, as in the title of Charles Dickens's 'Our Mutual Friend,' published in 1865. Yet for some reason this usage was censured in the later 19th Century, as the Oxford Dictionary notes. The dictionary also noted that mutual was the only possible word in expressions like Dickens's title. (When class distinctions were so important, who would take the risk of referring to 'our common friend'!)"

Even in America today, our common friend could easily be misunderstood as derogatory. Don't stew over the distinction between mutual and common, Beau. Chuck Dickens knew what he was doing.

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