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Words, May 28



Dennis Barry of Little Rock writes:

“If you see your compatriot, The Observer, running around could you ask a question about his/her 5/14 column? Writing about the perils of walking across a particular street, The Observer describes a scene in which ‘Foxy brunette in a foxy brunette Maxima turns right onto Clinton Ave., staring at her right hand, which clutched her mobile phone like a vice, while her left hand turned the wheel from six o'clock to twelve o'clock — long after the pedestrian signal went into effect.'

“I'd like to know whether The Observer (a) deliberately used the incorrect word (‘vice') to make a humorous and completely appropriate point about cell phone use in general, or (b) made a classic Freudian slip, or (c) made a typo? Whichever it was, this was a great line and deserves to be in someone's Hall of Fame, although the driver being described and her fellow cell-phone addicts might not see it quite the same way.”

Knowing The Observer as I do, I don't even have to ask. T.O. does not deal in typographical errors, misspellings or even Freudian slips. The correct answer is (a), the one about humor and appropriateness. That will be the correct answer next time, too.


“One suspect was described as a dark-complected black man just over 6 feet tall and weighing about 190 pounds. The other man was described as black with a medium complexion, around 5 feet 8 inches tall and weighing about 165 pounds.”

Until this recent police report, I hadn't seen dark-complected in so long I thought it had been virtually eliminated by the force and frequency of official disapproval, much like irregardless. Not so, and a few authorities even defend it.

Complected is a back-formation from complexion (back-formed apparently by people who mistakenly believed the noun was complection). Random House says that complected is “an Americanism dating from the early 19th century. Although it has been criticized by some as a dialectal or nonstandard substitution for complexioned, it occurs in the speech of educated persons and occasionally in edited writing.”


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