Columns » Words




It was no more than 390, tops:

“The death sentences for five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor accused of infecting hundreds of Libyan children with HIV have been commuted to life in prison. The ruling came after the families of the children each received $1 million and agreed to drop their demand for the execution of the six, who deny having infected more than 400 children and say their confessions were extracted under duress.”

I suspect the defendants denied infecting any children, in which case the second sentence should say so plainly. The “more than 400” phrase could go in the first sentence.

Ignorance of the origin has never stopped me from using happy as a clam, but I'll use it more confidently now that I know what it means. The Word Detective explains:

“ ‘Happy as a clam,' is a saying folks find mysterious only because it is rarely quoted in its full form, ‘Happy as a clam at high tide,' i.e., when it is least likely to be discovered by predators.”

“The couple plans to run the new store themselves.”

Couple can be singular or it can be plural, but it can't be both in one sentence, as this writer would have it. First he or she matches couple with a singular verb, then with a plural pronoun. Either “The couple plan to run the new store themselves,” or “The couple plans to run the new store itself” is correct. Most people don't like to refer to a couple as it. That's why the safest course is to always treat couple as a plural.

John Wesley Hall, attorney at law, writes:

“I just read an opinion from the federal court in Cincinnati dealing with a warrantless search of a house under a municipal ordinance that made it a health code violation to unlawfully possess dangerous ordnance or explosives. Repeatedly, the opinion refers to ‘unlawful possession of dangerous ordinance.' Never is it spelled correctly.

“The first time I saw ‘dangerous ordinance' in the opinion, I thought of the Little Rock City Board and its normal business.”

Add a comment