Language Break

by Jay Nordlinger

Toward the end of Impromptus today, I have a flurry of language notes. For instance, I remark on the wonderful phrase “near miss.” This put a reader in mind of something else. He writes,

I arrived at 11:59 for my noon-to-4 block in the lab. My supervisor said, “You were almost late.” I should have responded, “In other words, I was right on time.”

That flashed me back to a conversation I had once with a friend of mine. We were watching a basketball game, and he is a flat-out expert on the game. The ref blew his whistle, and I said, “Was that a good call?” He scrinched up his face and said, “Just barely.” I said, “In other words, it was completely, 100 percent a good call.” He broke into a grin and said, “Yes, exactly.”

I also have a brief note on state abbreviations — the “new,” curt, two-letter abbreviations (CT, MA) versus the older, longer, more elegant abbreviations (Conn., Mass.). This has sparked a lot of mail. Man, do readers not like the curt abbreviations, so much.

Finally, I mention the great American word “heighth” (goes with “length”). Reader writes,

I distinctly remember a spelling test I took in fourth grade that had both “height” and “heighth” on it. Either one was correct. For decades, I was unaware that the latter was nonstandard usage!

I remember my sister once pausing to ask, “Can you really write ‘a whole ’nother’?” Well, why not, if it’s what you say . . .

P.S. I’d be embarrassed to tell you how old I was when I found out that “Halleluljah” was actually “Hallelujah.” And I had sung Handel and everything.

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