Maureen Dowd used the phrase “came a cropper” in her column today (TimesSelect link; don’t bother), and she used it correctly. It was almost punctuated correctly, too, but we should maybe not ask too much. I’ll settle for proper usage, particularly of phrases you see used incorrectly all the time.
A nit-picker who wanted to be absolutely correct would write “‘came a cropper,” if you’re interested. The phrase comes from foxhunting and means, literally, to fall off your horse and hit the dirt. You need the apostrophe to indicate the first word is abbreviated; it’s “became a cropper,” i.e. a farmer, by embracing the farmer’s workplace head-first. I never understood the phrase until I saw it, punctuated correctly, in a photo caption for a book about foxhunting. (I think it was the famous picture of Jackie Kennedy going off, headfirst, wearing white string gloves, looking fab as usual.) Anyway, that explained it for me, and ever since, I’ve been noticing how many people get it wrong. “Came a-cropper” is the usual screwup, which suggests bonny lasses walking through fields of rye, croppering or whatever.
“Hear, hear” — that’s another one. It means, “listen to what this person is saying, because it’s the truth” or, simpler yet, “I agree.” And yet, at least 50 percent of the time it’s used, it’s written “here, here,” and I don’t know what that’s supposed to mean, unless you’re summoning a waiter. I found it in a novel written by an author whose work I respect, and I sent him an e-mail pointing it out. No reply.
As usual, The Straight Dope gets it right.
Tack/tact — I sprout more gray hairs every time I see this one. It’s a sailing term, and refers to the zigzag course boats must make as they sail into the wind. If you’re approaching a port that lies directly in the eye of the wind, you have to get there via a series of 45-degree course adjustments. “Let’s take another tack,” means, “Let’s approach this from a different angle.” And yet, I always, always see it written “tact,” and who the hell knows what that means, because I sure don’t.
Please don’t get me started on the anxious/eager difference, which isn’t difficult to understand, and yet even editors can’t get it right, many days.
And people! The principles of one’s faith? Are TENETS! Not TENANTS!
Bookmark this site. It’s a good reference to keep handy.
UPDATE: A commenter in the Ruins thread points out that a “copse” is, by definition, a small group of trees, and so you don’t need to say “copse of trees,” as I did in that post. Hmm. Good point, but I’m calling poetic license on that one. I’ve never heard the word used alone before. My online dictionary tells me its roots are in the 16th century word “coppice.” I guess if you said, “Henry, amble over to that copse and fetch me a fern,” probably people wouldn’t know what you were talking about. As when you use the phrase “‘come a cropper,” perhaps. As my daughter says these days: what-evuh.
Couple bits of bloggage:
The Poor Man answers all your Mel Gibson questions. Including the one that most interested me: Q: Gibson apparently blew a 0.12 on a breathalizer, which is only 150% the legal limit. What is that, like 3 beers? I barely even mention the Jews until I’ve put away a 20-pack. Is Gibson a wuss?
This is perhaps of local interest only, but perhaps not: Jack Lessenberry appreciates Maryann Mahaffey, longtime Detroit City Council president, who died last week. A fine portrait of what old-school liberals are, in their Platonic ideal. Bonus, a four-paragraph summation of what’s wrong with newspapers these days, at the very end.
Amy Welborn linked to this interview on Mercatornet.com the other day, about the Gardasil HPV vaccine. Pay special attention to the questions. For the sort of smug tut-tutting we’ve come to expect from religious conservatives, it really can’t be beat: …not everyone who contracts cervical cancer does so through her own fault, so to speak. So to speak. Through her own fault. What a fine Christian. Most days I’m not for bomb-throwing, but I think this commenter on the issue over at Alicublog cuts right to the heart of things: The argument comes down to this. Both sides know that people are going to have sex before marriage, the difference is the so-called liberals believe that they shouldn’t suffer and die for it, whereas conservatives think suffering and death is exactly what the f*ckers deserve.
Another busy day today. Have at it in the comments.