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Words March 9

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Twick or tweak:

“Jonathon Modica and Eric Ferguson each tweaked an ankle but were fine Thursday, trainer Dave England said.”

The verb tweak has gone through some changes over the years. It used to mean “to pinch, pluck or twist sharply,” as in “He tweaked Cheney’s nose and then Cheney shot him.” Some years back, tweak acquired the additional meaning of “to adjust; fine-tune.” And now, on the sports page at least, it seems to mean “to injure slightly.”

“It also reflects a changing racial demographic in Pulaski County that may be a factor in growth patterns – enrollment is declining and it is increasingly black.”

Bob Hilton writes: “All my dictionaries list demographic as an adjective. Is it used correctly in this sentence from the Times?”

My dictionaries list demographic as an adjective too. It means “relating to demographics.” Demographics is a plural noun: “the statistical characteristics of human populations (as age or income).” But demographic is widely used now to refer to one particular aspect of the demographics. I suspect this usage will eventually make it into the dictionaries, and Mr. Hilton and I will have to tweak our sensibilities.

“Pecorino has a flare for modeling. The pooch often chooses his own poses, and looks left and right on command, Anzenberger says.”

A flare, huh? He must not like natural lighting.

“I rather suspect that an economic agenda made up of optimistic appeals to … self-reliance and the creation of widely available but not too ambitious federal programs to insure against risk might be considered more appealing to … voters than Great Society-style collective action programs targeted toward discreet populations.”

The writer would rather target indiscreet populations? No, the word she was seeking is discrete (“separate”).

The experts aren’t always right, which is comforting to us non-experts. The Cambridge Guide to English Usage says that every other, as in “every other week,” is strictly a British idiom, and “For American readers every other needs to be paraphrased as every second (week), or in alternate (weeks).” Not the American readers I know.

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