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Words, Sept. 9



"Coach hopes for better from fraught receiving corps." Fraught with what, one might ask. Butterfingers? Typically, fraught ("full of; accompanied by") takes a with, and typically what you're fraught with is something you'd rather not have. ("The halls are fraught with bullies.") But increasingly these days we see fraught used by itself, meaning something like "distressed, troubled." ("Leghorn tries to right a fraught campaign.") I don't like this usage, but that's never stopped one before.

Speaking of hoping for better, the normal sequence is good, better, best. The opposite is bad, worse, worst. A sports-page report that "Woods shot the worse score of his career" was out of order. But there's one notable exception. Logically, we should say "If worse comes to worst." But we don't. The standard form is "If worst comes to worst." Who can explain it, who can tell you why?

"$40.2 million to aid state's direst schools." As with fraught, this is an odd use of dire ("causing or involving great fear or suffering"). We don't usually think of a school as being dire, though a specific problem at the school may be. "The school is in dire need of additional funding." "The school is direly understaffed." Rudolf Flesch was not fond of dire in any sense. He wrote in 1964 "Dire is a word that doesn't belong in the 20th century." Maybe it's making a comeback in the 21st.

"Two top Cabinet ministers have voiced concern about the government's accelerated expulsions of Roma, also known as Gypsies, to their home countries."

Iris Rizom writes, "Why can't they still be just Gypsies, like they always have been? Do I have to sing 'It's just the Roma in my soul'?" Wikipedia says the plural Roma has been in use in English since the 19th century. I'm not sure why we needed another name for this ethnic group, but there may be an element of political correctness. The verb gyp ("cheat, swindle") is derived from Gypsy, and is supposedly a commentary on the group's lifestyle.

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