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Words, Nov. 4

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Those witless wretches of wildlife:

Max Brantley has won this year's William Safire Memorial Award for his description of the state Game and Fish commissioners who schemed to evade the Freedom of Information law. When the Gang of Three surrendered, after being confronted by Gov. Mike Beebe, Brantley wrote:

"The issue is over and won't be revived, press is told. Sounds like [Game and Fish] lawyers will be thrown under the bus on this one, not the pampered pashas of privilege who dreamed this up."

"Rachael Leigh Cook's good looks helped make her a breakout teen star in the '90s, but she's railing on the media for its unhealthy expectations when it comes to appearances."

One rails at or against something, not on. A confused writer may have been thinking of wail on, an expression that is itself a product of confusion. The original, correct version is whale on. As a verb meaning "to strike or hit vigorously, to beat up," whale can be found in standard dictionaries. Wail cannot. Instead, wail as a verb means "to lament, to complain, to make a mournful cry." ("The Razorbacks whaled on the hapless Longhorns, sending the Texans home wailing.")

Yet I'm told that many of the younger set are using wail on. One contributor to an online usage forum says, "Both the Urban Dictionary and the Online Slang Dictionary list beating on someone as 'wail on,' and that's how I've seen it written (the few times I've seen it written)."

"Her license to shoot scenes in Sarajevo and the central town of Zenica in November was cancelled when the Women Victims of War (WVW) association complained after media reports the film would depict a love story between a Muslim victim and her Serb rapist." There's an inconsistency in identification here. The victim is designated by religion, the perpetrator by nationality. I suspect that's because Western news media don't like to refer to a "Christian rapist."

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