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Words Nov. 18

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“I read in the Nov. 4 issue of Arkansas Times the following regarding shrank and shrunk: ‘Though shrank appears more often in American writing, shrunk is “an acceptable alternative past tense in American English,” according to CGEU [the Cambridge Guide to English Usage].’ Apparently CGEU doesn’t know the difference between the noun alternative and the adjective alternate, but I would have expected you to catch that.” It’s wise not to set your expectations of me too high, but in this case, I think I’m clean. Not only CGEU but Random House and every other reference work I know of say that alternative is both a noun and an adjective, and alternate is a noun, an adjective and a verb. Furthermore, the adjective alternative is used exactly as CGEU used it. This is from Success With Words: “The adjective alternative basically means ‘being one of two choices,’ or ‘offering a second choice’: We have two alternative ways to go. There is an alternative approach to the problem. Both the noun and the adjective are also often used of more than two choices: We have several alternatives.” That last part touches on the only dispute over alternative that I remember, which is that some people said alternative could be used only for a choice between two things, no more. Some conservatives still prefer that restriction, according to SWW, but “it is fully correct and standard to use it [alternative] also of a choice among several.” Incidentally, the Arkansas Times is a member of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies. “It’s a tabloid and a lively one. Not salacious, or gossipy, but unflinching in its photographs of the festivities in a tourist town — transsexuals working a ‘Kiss a Queen’ booth during ‘Diversity Days’ … You don’t see photos like this in other Arkansas weeklies.” Unless those queens were undressed — and they were not — the writer couldn’t have known from looking at the picture that they were transsexuals. He meant to say transvestites. Our discussion last week of Scots, Scotch and scot-free prompted a reader to ask “Who was the Great Scot that people talk about?” The exclamation is spelled Great Scott. Scott is a euphemism for God.

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