Monday, November 16, 2009

Fair Use! Fair Use! The Word Geekery Continues

My goddamned preoccupation with the construction of English writing and speech won't leave my shuddering brain.

Here's how Houghton Mifflin [in its American Heritage Dictionary web entry] deals with a recent topic . Thanks, Houghton, for [hopefully] being good sports!


com·prise (km-prz)
tr.v. com·prised, com·pris·ing, com·pris·es
1. To consist of; be composed of: "The French got ... French Equatorial Africa, comprising several territories" (Alex Shoumatoff).
2. To include; contain: "The word 'politics' ... comprises, in itself, a difficult study of no inconsiderable magnitude" (Charles Dickens). See Synonyms at include.
3. Usage Problem To compose; constitute: "Put together the slaughterhouses, the steel mills, the freight yards ... that comprised the city" (Saul Bellow).

[Middle English comprisen, from Old French compris, past participle of comprendre, to include, from Latin comprehendere, comprndere; see comprehend.]

com·prisa·ble adj.

Usage Note: The traditional rule states that the whole comprises the parts and the parts compose the whole. In strict usage: The Union comprises 50 states. Fifty states compose (or constitute or make up) the Union. Even though careful writers often maintain this distinction, comprise is increasingly used in place of compose, especially in the passive: The Union is comprised of 50 states. Our surveys show that opposition to this usage is abating. In the 1960s, 53 percent of the Usage Panel found this usage unacceptable; in 1996, only 35 percent objected. See Usage Note at include.

The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition copyright ©2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Updated in 2009. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.


My goal of perspicuity is, of course, illusory. . . .

1 comment:

Wee Willy Safire said...

and yes, I know that perspicuity is effectively a synonym for, and thus a useless variant, for perspicacity.

I perfer the uity to the acity. . . .