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Words Sept. 30, 2004

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My way or the segue: Veda Moore has questions about segue. "First, is there any other word in the English language that ends with the letters ue pronounced as way, and secondly, when did this word begin being used other than as a direction in music?" First, I can’t think of another ue word that is pronounced like segue, and secondly, the 1987 Random House gives as one definition "to move from one thing to another smoothly and without interruption: The conversation segued from travel anecdotes to food." So the usage is at least a few years older than that. But perhaps not a lot older. A 1944 college edition of The Winston Dictionary doesn’t list segue at all. The lastly shall be firstly, or is it vice versa: Are first and second better than firstly and secondly? Bryan A. Garner thinks so. His Dictionary of Modern American Usage says "Firstly, secondly, thirdly, etc. are today considered inferior to first, second, third, etc. Many stylists prefer firstover firstly even when the remaining signposts are secondlyand thirdly." Three pigtails, maybe: "She was wearing her hair in three ponytails." I say that a girl, like a pony, has only one ponytail. This ruling is subject to appeal. One among many: "Little Rock is one of 145 cities that is developing a 10-year plan to end chronic homelessness. City leaders have said they hope to present a draft of that plan later this year." The one ofconstruction continues to throw people off. To find the right verb, turn the sentence around: "Of 145 cities that are developing a 10-year plan to end chronic homelessness, Little Rock is one." High-stepper: Paul Nations of Little Rock says a local columnist wrote that someone "was overheard bragging last week that he planned to ‘step over me.’ " "I’ve never heard this usage, though the context is plainly a threat," Nations writes. It’s new to me, too. Possibly an unintentional blend of step on and walk over.

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