Mangled meanings: Are you saying what you really want to say?

Some words fall trippingly off the tongue; others, carelessly strewn, provide a tripping hazard for editors and other professional nitpickers.

The other day, a colleague wrote that something or other would “reap havoc.” I postulated that months before, one must have sown the seeds of discord. The harvest would call for a grim reaper.

That’s the result of simply mishearing “wreak havoc,” of course, but there is a bumper crop of misused (or at least unclear) terms that sprout like weeds in the vernacular. It’s time to root them out. Grab your trowel, and let’s go.


For some reason, “quality,” a noun, has become widely used as an adjective—a shortening of “high-quality,” it seems. I’d guess the origin of this usage lies with sportscasters. “He’s a quality goaltender,” is not uncommon during hockey games. “Quality start” has become a term of art, even a statistic, when speaking about baseball pitchers. “Quality,” like “luck” or “volume,” is at the mercy of its modifier. It raises the question, “High-quality or low-quality?” To be clear, be specific.


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