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How long before one is spinach?

“TUCSON, Ariz. — A team of government scientists has voted to capture one of a handful of jaguars known to live in the United States, drawing protests from environmental groups. … The decision still needs to be approved by game agencies in Arizona and New Mexico, meaning it could take until the end of the year before one is collard ….”

“You could find the comparison on page 2A of Wednesday’s paper. There was Senate Bill 1955 (sponsored by Mike Enzi of Wyoming) on one side, and Senate Bill 2510 (Blanche’s bill) on the other. Both sounded fairly similar.”

Make it “They sounded fairly similar.” I know when I see it that this use of both is incorrect, but it’s not easy to explain why. So I’ll let someone else explain, in this case The Penguin Dictionary of American English Usage and Style:

“Both, adjective or pronoun, means the one and the other. For instance (as adjective), ‘Both buses go downtown,’ or (as pronoun) ‘Both go downtown.’

“Both indicates that an activity or state that could apply to only one (thing or person) applies to two. Therefore both should usually not go with any descriptive word or phrase or any verb that applies only to two or more. Two of these words are alike and same. [A third is similar — DS] One cannot be alike, and one cannot be the same. In ‘Both dogs look alike,’ change ‘Both’ to The. In ‘The books are both the same,’ delete ‘both.’ … ‘Both’ does not belong in ‘The brothers have both been united.’ In ‘Both agreed on the wording of the contract,’ they should replace ‘Both.’ ”

“Since cutting off the Times, the governor has been taking considerable flack from others in the media.” Actually, it’s flak that he’s been taking. Originally a German acronym for an anti-aircraft gun, then used for the fire from such guns, flak has acquired the figurative meaning of “sharp criticism.” Flack is an informal term for someone in the public relations game. A flack would try to ward off flak.

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