Originally Published: October 20, 2003 6:10 p.m.
The year was 1965, and Julie Andrews was doing some wonderful warbling in "The Sound of Music." One of the songs in that memorable movie was "My Favorite Things," you no doubt recall. But what I'd like to do today is to take the opposite tack and touch on a few of my least favorite things in the copy editing realm.
Actually, this is simply an extension of my Sept. 23 column that delved into the quirkiness of the English language. Today's installment shifts the focus somewhat onto some of my least favorite words because of their confusing nature when it comes to proper usage.
Like, for instance, that "onto" in the previous sentence. Its one-word treatment is correct in that context, but would revert to two words if the sentence were, say: "Columbo was on to something." (Feel free to disagree, which is your prerogative.) And note that I referred to the "previous sentence" instead of the "prior sentence," which – if there is any justice left in the world – is the correct usage.
Here are some other tricky word couplings that can pose as stumbling blocks, along with examples that are, at least to the best of my knowledge, correct:
• Is it "anytime" or "any time"? Well, it's "Anytime you're ready is fine with me." But "I'll be ready at any time."
• Is it "likable" or "likeable"? Either, actually, but the dictionary lists "likable" as the first preference.
• Is it "inadvertently" or "inadvertantly"? The former is correct, as there is no such word as "inadvertantly."
• Is it "meanwhile" or "meantime"? Examples: "Meanwhile, back at the ranch…" but "In the meantime, Black Bart was up to his dastardly deeds."
• Is it "smooths" or "smoothes"? My Webster's likes the former, but I prefer the latter. Frankly, though, both words look sort of funny.
• Is it "inalienable" or "unalienable"? I hold this truth to be self-evident: "inalienable" is correct, whereas "unalienable" is a sloppy offshoot.
• Is it "everyday" or "every day"? Well, "It's an everyday occurrence," an occurrence that comes about "every day."
• Is it "scrumptious" or "scrumptuous"? Webster's doesn't recognize "scrumptuous" as a word, although it crops up in print on occasion.
And last, and probably least, is a modern-day query for the quizmaster: Is it "Web site"? Or "web site"? or "Website"? Or "website"? The answer to that one is: Who knows? Or, to be perfectly blunt: Who cares?
Contact the columnist at firstname.lastname@example.org