In her famous Sonnet “How do I love thee …” Elizabeth Barrett Browning writes:

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways. 

I love thee to the depth and breadth and height

My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight… 

Notice at the end of the second line she did not write heighth. There was no such word as heighth a hundred and fifty years ago when Lizzie was writing – and guess what? Today there is no such word. We hear this malapropism quite often. It is especially common among sportscasters who wax non-poetically about the heighth of a fly ball to the outfield.

At the Republican National Convention Florida’s Senator Marco Rubio while speaking of his humble beginnings mentioned that his father, a bartender,  stood behind a drink bar so that he (Rubio) could stand behind this podium. Had he been standing behind the podium he might have been off the stage. Rubio was standing behind a lectern which was located on a podium.

When I hear someone say Where’s he at? I wince as if the speaker were running his fingernails across a chalkboard. The at is superfluous. Where is he, is sufficient. Perhaps, its frequent use is due to the fact that the answer to where’s he at often contains the word at; such as, he’s at school, or he’s at work, or he’s at wit’s end  from hearing that added at attack.

Can we finally settle the difference between use and utilize?Use is to employ objects for the purposes they were designed. He used the baseball bat to hit the baseball.

Utilize is to employ object for unintended purposes. He utilized the baseball bat as a toothpick to clean the alligator’s teeth. Again this misuse often employed by sportscasters trying to bloviate their speech. Mr. Vitale comes to mind.

Also, lets settle the difference between farther and further. Farther is a measurable distance. Further indicates greater in quantity, time, or degree. My golf ball traveled 20 yards farther than yours. That should put an end to any further discussion as to which of us is the longer hitter.

An obstacle prevents something from happening. An impediment hinders or slows down rather than stops or prevents.

Imply suggests a meaning only hinted at. Infer is to draw a conclusion to what I implied. I implied to my mother that I may have been in the vicinity of the cookie jar. She inferred from the crumbs on my shirt front that I was the reason the jar was empty.

Presently means soon or before very long. Currently means right now, at this moment.  This may have been a introduction to Abbott and Costello’s famous baseball routine. Who left the dugout and is currently on first base. What is looking for his cap and will presently be on second.

Between refers to a relations of two persons or objects. Among is used for more than two or for several. “Between you and  me,” said What to Who, “there are some pretty strange names among the other players on this team.” There are exceptions when more than two are considered in relation to each other.  A trade between Pittsburgh, St. Louis, and Boston brought Why, Because, and Tomorrow to our team.

There is a phrase, unrelated to grammar,  that is so overused that it is meaningless. It is the ubiquitous “Have a nice day.” Having a nice day often depends on where I’m at.


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  1. Tom Bottaro says:

    Good essay, Jerry. You might also have included the constant confusion with “their,” they’re” and “there.” Not to mention “your” and “you’re.”

  2. Deb Schulte says:

    Great to Read your thoughts, Jerry! Hope everything going well for you. Bet everyone agrees with that! From Your friend Deb

  3. Ellen says:

    You’re column was clever irregardless of the sports metafores.

    • Jerry Gervase says:

      Their were many comets about the colum. Thanks fore you’res

    • Mal Citron says:

      Is irregardless different from regardless?

      • Jerry Gervase says:

        Mel, good timing. I am planning a follow-up to my last “word” post and irregardless is one of the words – technically it isn’t even a word, it’s an illiteracy. The “ir” is superfluous. The correct word is simply “regardless.” However, “irrespective,” though getting rare, is still in use, meaning “Characterized by disrespect of particular persons, circumstances, or conditions (OED) (People sometimes judge actions to be right irrespective of their consequences) (OED)

        • Mal Citron says:

          You might want to mention, “I could care less.”, when the speaker means just the opposite. By the way, call me Mal . Thanks….Mal

  4. Raymond Groo says:

    Nice to know that all was not lost, Jerry, when we lost William Safire. He was one of my favorites.
    Pronunciation is another area you might explore. Those ath-a-letes you referred to pra-bly didn’t, (or, is it di’dint) didn’t know how to keep track (or, is it tract) of the score either. Keep up the wordsmithing…cuz, as I say, all’s not lost, yet…

    • Jerry Gervase says:

      Ray, thanks. Safire was a Major Leaguer while I’m struggling down here in Double-A. Still, I cringe when I hear Mike Krukow, the Giant’s announcer, say heighth. Ath-a-letes is another one that makes me want to turn off the sound. I’m sure “keep track” is correct. Tracts are what Jehovah Witnesses hand out on street corners. But then, I’m not one to proselytize. Thanks for writing.

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