A Desk-Book of Errors in English/G
galaxy: Exercise care in the use of this word. It signifies any brilliant circle or group; as, a galaxy of beauties or of gems, and is never correctly used of any person or thing of inferior quality.
gall: Correctly used is "an intensely bitter feeling." When used as a synonym for "cool assurance" or "impudence" it is slang which should be avoided.
gang is correctly applied to a squad of laborers, and others detailed to certain given tasks. But sometimes applied also, usually in an uncomplimentary way, to a company of persons who meet habitually for social intercourse; as, "He sent a letter to the gang at Seelig's."
gazebo: A term often misused for "chief person." A gazebo is a belvedere or elevated summer-house and as such is often the highest point of a building: applied to a person the term is slang.
gee whiz: A slang exclamation of astonishment that it is best to avoid.
geezer: A vulgar term applied, usually in derision to elderly persons, particularly women. Formerly it was used to designate a mummer or other grotesque character.
generally. Compare commonly.
genius, genus: Discriminate carefully between these words. Genius implies the possession of remarkable natural gifts through which their possessor may attain ends or obtain results by intuitive power. Genus is a class or kind. In the natural sciences it is the subordinate of an order, tribe, or family.
gent: As an abbreviation for gentleman this word is not permitted in refined speech; and gentleman is never correctly used for man as a mere indication of sex. Compare lady
genteel is sometimes improperly applied to persons who are preferably spoken of as polite or well-bred. If used with regard to persons, it should only be in connection with some specific characteristic, as "a person of genteel speech or appearance," or to indicate suitability to the condition of a well-bred person, as in the expression "a genteel fortune."
genuine. Compare authentic.
get a gait or move on: Slang phrases for "hasten one's steps or actions," which, while it may not be so expressive, is more elegant and refined.
get over: Sometimes used for deny or refute. One doesn't get over a charge but refutes it.
git: Vulgarism used in the imperative for get out.
go. See went.
go back on: A colloquialism for abandon, deceive, play false. Inelegant and not used by persons accustomed to nice discriminations of speech.
going is sometimes used as a synonym for just about. One frequently hears, "I am just going to sing," from a person who is about to do so. The verb go, in the transitive, is sometimes used loosely in the colloquial sense of "endure" or "wager." Polite speech does not sanction such locutions as "I can not go that music;" "I will go you a dollar on the race."
gone: The phrase "He's been gone this month," though frequently used, is better rendered thus: "It's a month since he went." The verb "to go" does not lend itself agreeably to this treatment which is common with other verbs (as "He has been known and loved for years"), and the expression "this month," for "this past month," is somewhat too elliptical to be received with favor.
gone case: A vulgarism sometimes used to denote that the affection bestowed by one person on another of the opposite sex shows him to be serious in his intentions. It is also a vulgarism when applied to one who is in a hopeless condition, as from illness.
good should never be used for well. Do not say, "I feel pretty good" or "she plays that pretty good" when you mean that you "feel pretty well" or that "she plays fairly well."
go past: "Go" usually implies motion forward, therefore, it is pleonastic to say "go past." Say, rather, that you "go by" and not past. Nevertheless a march past is a recognized expression.
got: This word is used correctly for acquired or obtained, but is incorrectly used to denote simple possession and correctly implies effort to secure something. Sometimes it is used redundantly; as, "He has got it"; the simpler form, "He has it" is preferable. "We have got to do it," while emphatic, is less so than "we must do it."
go the whole hog: An inelegant phrase used for "to go to the utmost limit." Carlyle traces the origin of this phrase from the Irish because in Ireland hog was a synonym for a ten penny piece, a coin once current in that country.
graduate: The use of this verb in the intransitive has been condemned by purists but is now well established. Thus, one may correctly say "He was graduated from a university" or, "He graduated from a university."
grammar: The phrases good grammar and bad grammar have been condemned as false syntax by some persons unfamiliar with the meanings of the word "grammar." One meaning recorded by the Standard Dictionary is "speech or writing considered with regard to its correctness; propriety of linguistic usage; as, he uses good or bad grammar."
The New York Herald (March 4, 1906) says: "Good grammar is one of those cheap vulgarisms which most offend the scholarly ear. A phrase is either grammatical or ungrammatical. It can not be characterized as either 'good' or 'bad' grammar."
The writer of the foregoing based his criticism on a misunderstanding. The word "grammar" is not like the word "orthography," a word made up of orthos, correct, and grapho, to write. Grammar does not carry with it the implication of correctness, and modern grammarians bear this out. Prof. Edward Maetzner in his "English Grammar: Methodical, Analytical and Historical," so defines the term:
- "Grammar, or the doctrine of language, treats of the laws of speech, and, in the first place, of the Word, as its fundamental constituent, with respect to its matter and its form, in prosody, or the doctrine of sounds, and morphology, or the doctrine of forms, and then of the combination of words in speech, in syntax, or the doctrine of the joining of words and sentences" (vol. i. p. 12).
Syntax, which is a part of grammar, is sometimes confused with grammar itself. It is that part of grammar which treats of the sentence and of its construction, and embraces, among other features, the doctrine of the collocation of words in sentences in connected speech, treating of their arrangement and relative positions, as required by grammatical connection, euphony, and clearness and energy of expression.
The "New English Dictionary," edited at Oxford University by Dr. J. A. H. Murray, treating this subject says:
- "The old-fashioned definition of grammar as 'The art of speaking and writing a language correctly' is from the modern point of view in one respect too narrow, because it applied only to a portion of this branch of study; in another respect it is too wide, and was so even from the older point of view, because many questions of 'correctness' in language are recognized as outside the province of grammar: e. g., the use of a word in a wrong sense, or a bad pronunciation or spelling, would not have been called a grammatical mistake. Until a not very distant date, grammar was divided by English writers into Orthography, Etymology, Syntax, and Prosody, to which Orthoepy was added by some others. The division now usual is that into Phonology, treating of the sounds now used in the language, Accidence, of the inflexional forms or equivalent combinations, and Syntax, of the structure of sentences."
In defining grammar, Lindley Murray wrote "English grammar is the art of speaking and writing the English language with propriety." Following the style of the Standard Dictionary, Dr. Murray gives one of the meanings of grammar as follows: "Speech or writing judged as good or bad according as it conforms to or violates grammatical rules; also speech or writing that is correct according to those rules."
If grammar can not be good or bad, as contended by the New York Herald's editor, then it can not be true or false. Yet Dryden wrote, "And I doubt the word 'they' is false grammar (Almanzor, II. Def. Epilogue); and Macaulay writing of Frederick the Great, said: "He had German enough to scold his servants, but his grammar and pronunciation are extremely bad (Essays; Frederick the Great). Again, elsewhere, "The letter may still be read, with all the original bad grammar and bad spelling" (History of England, IV., xviii., 245). Both phrases are permissible. Compare bad.
grammatical error: A common locution, but "an error in grammar," is to be preferred as avoiding what is sometimes considered a violation of grammatical precision.
grant. Compare accord.
grass, go to: A vulgar imperative meaning "get away" or "clear out!"
grass widow: A common term of disparagement applied to a woman abandoned by or separated from her husband: a term which is not used by persons of refinement and one that, if used at all, should be applied only with great care.
grass widower: A term used to denote a husband who lives apart from his wife or one from whom the wife is temporarily absent.
gratitude, thankfulness: Gratitude, from the Latin gratitudo, from gratus, kind, is a sense of appreciation of favors received, as indicated by actions. It is the actual feeling, of which thankfulness, or the fulness of thanks, is the mere outward expression. It is therefore quite possible, and indeed often the case, for a person who at one time is full of thanks to show subsequently a want of gratitude.
great. Compare big.
groom should not be used for "bridegroom."
grouchy: A slang term for sulky or disgruntled.
guess, suppose, think, conjecture: Words sometimes used incorrectly. We guess when we are content to hazard an opinion based on data which are admittedly insufficient, but we suppose when we have good ground for assuming a thing to be true. When we think, we give thought to a matter on which we yet admit the thought has been insufficient to furnish us with exact or certain knowledge. Thinking is allied to conjecturing, in which, though holding a pronounced opinion, this falls short of absolute conviction. We guess the outcome of an event, but suppose that an event which has happened may result in good. We think that a certain medicine may effect a cure, but if we have tried it successfully before for a similar complaint, conjecture that it will, although not being absolutely sure that the conditions are precisely the same we are not convinced and do not know.
gums. Compare rubbers.