“To Grammar’s House”is a regular column by the Boston Globe copy desk on the style and language used in the newspaper.
Last year Grammar's House undertook some overdue spring cleaning, sweeping out a number of antiquated rules that seemed capricious, spurious, or in some cases erroneous. Now perhaps it's time for some fall cleaning, a sweeping out of some overused phrases that are hackneyed, counterfactual, or otherwise undesirable.
There are many idioms that have entered our vocabulary that we appreciate and admire, others not so much. <---- How that one, for example, nosed its way into our lexicon is unclear, but it sure would be nice to show it the exit. Grammar's House's main objection is the way it's almost never parallel to what precedes it, which makes it perpendicular, or perhaps oblique or tangential, but in any case even more awkward than a math analogy in a grammar column.
Sometimes it seems there's a disconnect between what is grammatically correct and what is dubious but considered acceptable simply because it's been repeated so often. Such is the case with "disconnect," a verb that has been increasingly used as a noun since sometime around 1980. Its intended meaning -- an inability to mentally reconcile two or more things, an inability of two or more parties to understand one another, or, more generally, a gap -- is perfectly conveyed by the more than serviceable words "disconnection" or "disparity." Why so many writers reach instead for the awkward-sounding and abruptly ending "disconnect" is something that's difficult to reconcile.
Have you ever read a story whose author -- wait for it -- issued instructions or commands to you, the reader, personally? Think obtrusive, irritating, and condescending. Let's agree to not do that anymore, OK? Enough said about those constructions.
One of the problems with having journalists on the ground in foreign countries, embedded in military units, is their ensuing propensity to employ military jargon in the stories they file. Hence the seemingly ceaseless references to troops on the ground, boots on the ground, or anything on the ground, for that matter. In almost every case, anything "on the ground" could just as easily be described without the extraneous prepositional phrase, which adds absolutely nothing. And for practical purposes, let's send actual soldiers overseas, not just their boots. And finally, when they get there, let's just stipulate that they're going to be on the ground, since as far as we know they haven't been able to accomplish the miracle of hovering yet.
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