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Words Sept. 1

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Kerri Case of Paschall Strategic Communications writes: “I know the phrase ‘barn burner’ came from the story of the man who burned his barn to kill the rats and was popularized during the slavery debate as a name to call Democrats who were fighting pro-slavery factions within the party. But do you know at what point the phrase came to mean an exciting sports event?” No. And I didn’t know about the rats or the anti-slavery Democrats either. I hope Ms. Case doesn’t take it into her head to start writing a column on words. “ ‘The success of the new Medicare law depends on a robust partnership between government and the private sector,’ said Stacey Hughes, a partner in the lobbying firm established by former Sen. Don Nickles, R-Okla.” A robust partnership between government and the private sector is a tactful way of saying “corporate welfare.” Judge Morris Sheppard Arnold notes that the past tense of the verb lead is increasingly written as lead, rather than the correct led. Even writers who think they know better are slipping up. The judge cites an article in the Georgetown Journal of Law & Public Policy. The four authors quoted from an opinion by a federal district judge: “If the jury is lead to believe … ”. They carefully put a “sic” in brackets after lead, thus tipping readers that the authors know the past tense of lead even if district judges do not. Then, a couple of paragraphs after the sic, they wrote “But much like the laws of unintended consequences that sometimes flow from benign ideas, these decisions have lead to a flood of unnecessary litigation.” Hoist by their own petard. A couple of readers have pointed out that in our discussion of the –ola suffix (Aug. 18), we failed to mention one of its most famous uses — Shinola. And Patrick Dallas sent me a very helpful list of ways to distinguish Shinola from a substance with which it is often confused. Thanks, Patrick! If only I’d had this information years ago.

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