A Desk-Book of Errors in English/T

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A Desk-Book of Errors in English by Frank Horace Vizetelly
T
Contents: IntroductionA B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

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take: Often incorrectly used for have, especially in extending hospitality, in such a sentence as "What will you take?"

take on for grieve, scold, etc., like carry on for behave sportively may both be tolerated as colloquialisms that are popular because of their irrationality, or because they require no discrimination in statement.

takes the cake. See cake.

take up school: An objectionable local Americanism for begin school: used also intransitively; as, "School took up at 9 o'clock": avoid this.

talent should not be used for "talents" or "ability."

talented: Inasmuch as adjectives of the participial form are justified by strict grammarians only if derived from an existing verb, this word has been caviled at by Coleridge (who denounced it as "that vile and barbarous vocable") and many literary pedants. Burke, Hazlitt, Lamb, De Quincey, Macaulay and Newman have however, spoken of "a talented man"; and in the face of this array of learning and authority we can raise but a modest protest in favor of the contention of the grammarians. Such formations are, however, not to be indiscriminately recommended.

talk, back. Compare back talk.

tasty in the sense of tasteful is without authority and is considered an illiterate use. A person or his work may be tasteful, but his food, however savory, can be no more than tasty.

team: Strictly a team consists of two or more beasts of burden harnessed together, but in the United States the word is extended to cover "team and accessories," the latter being the harness or equipment, together with the vehicle to which the animals are attached.

tell on: A common expression with children used in the sense of "to inform against a person," is derived from Biblical use (1 Sam. xxvii. 11). The phrase lost to literary English has now no equivalent.

temper, anger, wrath: Words in the use of which discrimination should be used. Temper is disposition or constitution of the mind, especially in relation to the affections or the passions; anger is violence or vindicated passion aroused by real or imaginary insult or injury. One may have an irritable temper without being necessarily angry. Wrath is deep, determined, and lasting anger, usually accompanied by outward expression of displeasure. Anger may be only inward feeling without the outward expression of passion.

tender should not be used for "give." You tender a payment; give a reception.

testimony. Compare evidence.

than as a conjunction should be used only in the case of direct comparison; as, "I esteem this more than that." When the comparison is merely implied, or covered by the verb, as by the verb prefer, than should not be used. See prefer.

thanks has been condemned as an undignified colloquialism bordering on incivility; but what serious objection is there to this pithy acknowledgment of obligation or gratitude? It has been said that Shakespeare made use of the expression no fewer than fifty-five times, and that the Bible four times contains the utterance "thanks be to God," Shakespeare's use of the word with "much" as an adjective is indeed most forcible—"for this relief much thanks."

than me should never be used for than I. Say, "He is taller than I"; not "He is taller than me."

than whom: A phrase objected to by some grammatical critics, in such locutions as "Cromwell, than whom no man was better skilled in artifice"; but shown to be "a quite classic expression." Formerly than was often but not always used as a preposition, and than whom is probably a survival of such usage. "Than whom" is generally accepted as permissible— probably because the sentence where it occurs can not be mended without reconstruction, and it has abundant literary authority.

that: In construing this word, it must be recollected that it is not only a conjunction but also a pronoun, both demonstrative and relative. The peculiarity of the word is such that it can be used more times in succession than any other word in the English language. Exception having been taken to a certain "that" found in a school-boy's exercise, it was shown that that that that that boy used was right. Dean Alford constructed a sentence on these lines which contained no fewer than nine thats in succession. That used adverbially is wholly inexcusable. "He was that sick" could only be tolerated if an ellipsis such as "he was (to) that (degree) sick," could be supposed, but this is more than can be done; and the expression is therefore regarded as an unpardonable vulgarism. Compare as, that (p. 22).

that there: An illiterate expression commonly used with the mistaken idea that the use of "there" adds emphasis to what follows, as, "That there man." Say, rather, "That man there" or simply, and preferably "That man."

that, who: Discriminate carefully between these words. That implies restriction; who generally denotes coordination. As an illustration of this distinction, Alfred Ayres says ("The Verbalist," p. 202), "'I met the boatman who took me across the ferry.' If who is the proper word here, the meaning is 'I met the boatman, and he took me across the ferry,' it being supposed that the boatman is known and definite. But if there be several boatmen, and I wish to indicate one in particular, by the circumstance that he had taken me across the ferry, I should use that." That ought, therefore, to be preferred to who or which whenever an antecedent not otherwise limited is to be restricted by the relative clause.

that's him: No, "that's he"—this is correct.

the: Before titles of honor, such as Reverend, Honorable, the definite article (though now frequently omitted) should be used. As the title is specific and personal, this is the more necessary.

the infinitive: The particle to is an inherent and component part of the infinitive, and is strictly inseparable therefrom, in precisely the same way that the prefixed syllable which assists to form a compound word (as inconstant) is a necessary part of the compound. But this to belongs to the present infinitive only, and properly finds no place in such expressions as "He was fool enough to have risked his good name. " Despite the hundreds of uses of this method of expression, it is a blunder: the sentence should read "fool enough to risk." It is, too, on the ground of inseparability that the split infinitive (which see) is so reprehensible. "To dance gracefully" should not be transposed into "to gracefully dance."

them: The use of this word as a demonstrative adjective for a pronoun is wholly unpermissible. A common error due to a desire to designate particularly the article required. Do not say "Give me them things"; say, rather, "... those things." However, of things previously mentioned one may say "Give them to me. "

then: The use of this word as an adjective, as in the phrase "the then Bishop of York," has been questioned; but the usage is expressive and convenient, and is supported by good literary authority.

thence, whence: As these words mean "from there," "from where," they should not be preceded by the word from as is often erroneously done.

these is, them are: Ungrammatical phrases used by the illiterate for "this is"; "those are." The pronouns should both agree in number with the verb they govern.

these kind, those sort, etc.: Such expressions, though common, are now usually considered altogether wrong. Nouns in the singular require demonstrative adjectives also in the singular. But this may be used instead of these in collective expressions, such as "this ten years." Yet Shakespeare has many instances of this use. Thus, in " Twelfth Night " (act i, sc. 5) he writes "these kind of fools," and in "King Lear" (act ii, sc. 2) a precisely similar expression, "these kind of knaves." In "Othello" (act iii, sc. 3) he has, "these are a kind of men."

think, don't. See don't believe.

this or that much: Not elegant perhaps, but still correct or at least passable. A careful speaker would prefer to say "this much," because much being an adjective of quality requires, for its elucidation, not a pronoun but an adverb. It is true that in the expression "this" or "that much," the word "much" could generally, if not always, be omitted without affecting the correctness of the sentence wherein it is used; still the sense would not be precisely the same. "This much I know" denotes a limitation in the extent of knowledge which is not restricted by "this I know."

threatening. Compare eminent.

three first, the: Incorrect for the first three: one may, however, correctly use three first if referring to a race, or the like, in which three of the competitors run a dead heat. Compare two first.

through: An undesirable colloquialism for "at an end"; "finished"; generally applied to speakers who have completed an address, or to diners who have finished a meal. Both applications are marks of ill-breeding and border on vulgarity.

tickled to death: An absurd phrase used to express "greatly pleased."

till: In some parts of the United States oddly misused for by; as, "I'll be there till [by] ten o'clock."

time: Avoid such an incongruity as "Heaps of time." "Plenty of time," or "time enough" are to be preferred.

timely. Compare seasonable.

tinker's dam: A colloquialism for something worthless, used usually in the phrase "Not worth a tinker's dam." Avoided in polite society.

tiny little: The use of words as mere intensives should be avoided, for by judicious selection a single word can probably be found which is capable of conveying the precise sense desired. To speak of a "tiny little watch" or "a great big house," indicates a deplorable poverty of vocabulary. It is true that Shakespeare spoke of "the most unkindest cut of all"; but he made use of intensives only when the unusual circumstances of the case required them.

tired, to make one: A colloquialism for "to weary," or "reduce the patience of" as by absurd stories or silly conversation: a commonplace expression good to avoid.

to: Beware of using the preposition to when at is intended. A common error of this sort is instanced by "He was to school this morning." Possibly the error is made rather in the verb than the preposition, though the influencing cause of error in the uneducated does not always admit of certainty. We suggest, therefore, that the verb "to be" is used unintentionally for "to go," and that the sentence is perhaps intended to read "he went to school this morning." Compare and; for.

togged out or up: An undesirable and vulgar expression for "well-dressed" or "attired in clothes that mav attract attention."

to-morrow: This word is often used with different tenses, the question being raised as to whether it should be "to-morrow is Christmas day" or "tomorrow will be Christmas day. "Both forms are correct. But, generally, in using this word, the supposition is that to-morrow has not arrived at the time of speaking, and, therefore, "to-morrow will be Christmas day" is preferred. Longfellow (Keramos, line 331) says: "To-morrow will be another day." But the other form also has the sanction of usage, as the following quotations will show:


"To-morrow, what delight is in to-morrow!"—T. B. Read, The New Pastoral, bk. vi. l. 163.

"To-morrow is a satire on to-day."—Young, The Old Man's Relapse, l. 6.


The Bible affords numerous instances of this use of "is." Ex. xvi. 23: "The Lord hath said, to-morrow is the rest of the holy Sabbath unto the Lord"; xxxii. 5: "And Aaron made proclamation and said, to-morrow is a feast to the Lord"; I Sam. xx. 5: "Behold to-morrow is the new moon"; Matt. vi. 30: "If God so clothe the grass of the field, which to-day is, and to-morrow is cast into the oven."

Most people would say "Yesterday was Friday." If the thought is fixed upon the name of the day, it is better to use is, if upon the time future it is better to use will be.

toney: A vulgarism for "fancy" or "stylish," either of which is a preferable term.

touch, to: A slang term for "to borrow" not used by persons careful of their diction. Do not say "I touched him for a ten-spot"; say rather, "I borrowed ten dollars from him."

transpire is condemned by the best writers in the sense of happen. "The verb transpire formerly conveyed very expressively its correct meaning, viz., to become known through unnoticed channels—to exhale, as it were, into publicity through invisible pores, like a vapor or gas disengaging itself. But of late, a practise has commenced of employing the word ... as a mere synonym to to happen.... This vile specimen of bad English is already seen in the dispatches of noblemen and viceroys."—Mill, Logic, bk. iv. ch. 5, p. 483.

truth. Compare veracity.

try: This word is often erroneously used for "make." Do not say "Try the experiment yourself" but "Make the experiment." An experiment can only be tried, as a speech (in its literal, that is verbal, sense) can only be spoken.

try and: A common but incorrect locution. Do not say "Try and come to-day," but, rather, "Try to come to-day."

tumble to: Slang for "to understand." Do not say "Do you tumble to it?" Say, rather, "Do you understand it?"

turn down: Undesirable, though perhaps expressive slang for "reject"; "ignore"; or "dismiss." In commercial circles, this expression has wide usage but is not the less inelegant and should be avoided. A proposition is quite as fully disposed of when it is "rejected" as when it is "turned down;" besides, "rejected" should be given preference if only by reason of its brevity.

turn up: Used in the sense of to "put in an appearance" this expression has been condemned. The remark of a barrister in a London County Court that a defendant had "not turned up" caused the Judge to exclaim: "Pray do not use such slip-shod expressions." The barrister apologized. "These are high-pressure days," he said, "and since your Honor's days at the bar we have no longer time to indulge in perfect English."

twenty-three: A slang term used as the equivalent of "fade away" in theatrical and sporting circles: a recent expression the origin of which has been variously explained. Compare fade away.

two. Compare couple.

two and two is (or are) four: As an abstract proposition or statement, is is undoubtedly correct; for four is two added to two, or twice two; but when two specific things are added to two others, the verb must be in the plural. In the former case we are saying that a certain single and definite result is attained or total given by the combination of two numbers; in the latter we say that in a given body or number of things are so many single or individual things. Two men and two are undoubtedly four; that is, four men are (constituted of) two and two. Beyond doubt, twice one is two; for it can not be that two (as a single and specific number) are twice one.

two first: Of this expression James Murdock says: "The only argument against the use of two first, and in favor of substituting first two, so far as I can recollect, is this: In the nature of things, there can be only one first and one last, in any series of things. But—is it true that there can never be more than one first and one last? If it be so, then the adjective first and last must always be of the singular number, and can never agree with nouns in the plural. We are told that the first years of a lawyer's practise are seldom very lucrative. The poet tells us that his first essays were severely handled by the critics, but his last efforts have been well received. Examples like these might be produced without number. They occur everywhere in all our standard writers.... When a numeral adjective and a qualifying epithet both refer to the same noun, the general rule of the English language is to place the numeral first, then the qualifying epithet, and afterwards the noun. Thus we say, 'The two wise men,' 'the two tall men'; and not 'the wise two men' 'the tall two men.' And the same rule holds in superlatives. We say 'the two wisest men,' 'the two tallest men' and not 'the wisest two men,' 'the tallest two men.' Now if this be admitted to be the general rule of the English language, it then follows that we should generally say 'the two first,' 'the two last,' etc., rather than 'the first two,' 'the last two,' etc. This, I say, should generally be the order of the words. Yet there are some cases in which it seems preferable to say, 'the first two,' 'the first three,' etc." Compare first.