Today's Paper Search Latest Coronavirus Families Core values App Listen Story ideas iPad Weather Newsletters Obits Puzzles Archive

I have no unifying theme this week, just a mix of things wafting through my head.

I have been thinking about how writers like to use synonyms for numbers, as if the numbers themselves are too dull.

I've seen headlines such as these:

Police say trio used stolen gun to rob, kill 2 in California

State dreams stay alive for local wrestling quartet

Mother-daughter coaching duo has high school on the upswing

I picture the robbing trio using wireless microphones, a guitar, a drum set and that gun. I imagine the wrestlers playing varying sizes of stringed instruments.

And either the mother or daughter plays the piano, while the other sings.

OK, maybe I get irrationally worked up about this, but duo, trio and quartet are better used with musical groups.

Police say 3 men used stolen gun to rob, kill 2 in California

State dreams stay alive for 4 local wrestlers

Field hockey: Mother-daughter coaches have high school on the upswing

Please be on the lookout for examples of these. I would love to find an octet.

Some writers and speakers seem to get tired of using the same lifeless verbs alone, again and again. This happens a lot in sports coverage. Think about all the ways baseball announcers describe how a batter hits a ball.

He connected against the pitcher.

He made a monstrous shot.

He made contact.

He was all over the pitch.

He hit a towering line drive.

He hit a solo shot.

He hit a rocket.

He tattooed that one.

He sent that one into orbit.

Also, he bashed, belted, bludgeoned, clobbered, cracked, crushed, pounded, slammed, slugged, swatted and socked it.


"Jibe" and "jive" sometimes get used interchangeably. They shouldn't be.

To jibe is to agree on something. To jive is to talk in an embellished or deceiving way. I found some examples.

Wrong: The results of the employee survey don't jive with answers from hiring managers.

Right: The results of the employee survey don't jibe with answers from hiring managers.

Wrong: His recollections don't always jive with actual history.

Right: His recollections don't always jibe with actual history.


"Persons" is a bureaucratic word for the plural of person. Official reports often mention persons. Regular people, though, say "people." Can you imagine asking a bride-to-be, "How many persons will be at the wedding?"

It sounds OK for the Missing Persons Bureau, though, probably because we've always heard that title. The Missing People's Bureau would be a little casual.


"Incentivize" is another bureaucratic word I've seen more often lately. It means to offer incentives or to inspire. But it takes a fine noun — incentive — and turns it into a silly-sounding verb.

Stiff: Most states incentivize colleges to graduate more students.

Better: Most states give incentives to colleges to graduate more students.

Stiff: The promise of overseas purchases would incentivize oil companies to produce even more oil.

Better: The promise of overseas purchases would motivate oil companies to produce even more oil.


I recently learned the difference between a disease and a syndrome.

A disease is a condition that prevents some part of the body from acting normally.

A disease has a recognized set of symptoms and an identified cause. (The medical term for "cause" is "etiologic agent.") It has Middle English and Anglo-French roots meaning dis-ease, or the opposite of ease.

A syndrome is a set of symptoms connected to an abnormality. The cause is not definite. Syndromes generally are not understood as well as diseases are. (The etiologic agent must be a secret agent.) The word comes from the Greek word meaning combination.

Naturally, to add the requisite confusion, syndromes sometimes retain the title even after a cause is found. For example, doctors have found the cause of AIDS, acquired immune deficiency syndrome, but the "syndrome" has stayed.


I wonder whether the Lesser Antilles has an inferiority complex. Does the Greater Antilles bully the Lesser mercilessly?

I wonder what elderflowers are called when they are young sprouts. Or are they just born with old souls?

Sources: Oxford Dictionaries,, various Virginia newspapers, Merriam-Webster, Washington State University, Sports Illustrated, American Heritage Dictionary, A Dictionary of Modern American Usage by Bryan A. Garner


Style on 06/24/2019

Print Headline: Synonyms go wafting on through


Sponsor Content