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Amazon (cover) / iStock (background)

7 Words That Have Changed Stages in the New Edition of Modern English Usage

Amazon (cover) / iStock (background)
Amazon (cover) / iStock (background)

Even the most careful, educated writers occasionally need some guidance on questions of proper usage. Since 1998, Bryan Garner’s Garner’s Modern American Usage has been a trusted and comprehensive source on everything from the choice between a and an to the spelling of zwieback

The fourth edition has recently been published, and “given the book’s broadly inclusive approach to World English, not just to American English and British English,” the title has been changed to Garner’s Modern English Usage. There are also other changes. Language is a living thing, after all, and usage norms are not static. Since the third edition, Garner has used a language-change index to rank the acceptability of many of the entries. These rankings allow a more fine-grained understanding of proper use than a simple right/wrong judgment. A given usage can be captured by one of the following: 

Stage 1: Rejected (e.g., the use of every since for ever since.)

Stage 2: Widely shunned (e.g., the use of to gift for to give.)

Stage 3: Widespread but… (In this stage well-educated people might use it but not when being formal or careful, e.g., the figurative use of literally.) 

Stage 4: Ubiquitous but… (In this stage most people have accepted it, but a few die-hards are not giving in, e.g.,he use of healthy to mean healthful.)

Stage 5: Fully accepted 

One of the great achievements of Garner’s guide is that it can track the shift from one stage to another over time. Indeed, a number of entries have switched rank in the seven years since the third edition was published. What’s more, the rank assignments in the new edition are informed by the vast collection of English usage data in Google Books. Garner used Google Ngram Viewer to look at the relative frequency of words and phrases in English books and those numbers to support his judgments.

For example, even though spitting image began as a corruption of the phrase spit and image, it is now a fully accepted Stage 5. The ngram numbers back this up. Over millions of English books, the ratio of spitting image to spit and image is 23 to 1. The ratio tells you that if you still think spitting image is incorrect, you’re sitting on a pretty lonely perch.

Garner’s Modern English Usage is a living usage manual, and that makes it a useful usage manual. Here are seven words that changed their rankings from the last edition to the new one.

1. GANTLET OR GAUNTLET

The phrase running the gauntlet began as running the gantlet. The gauntlet version has now moved from a Stage 4 to a Stage 5, fully acceptable, choice. The ngram ratio of gauntlet to gantlet in this phrase is 11:1.

2.  DAMN OR DAMNED

Is it one damn thing or another or one damned thing or another? In phrases like this, the damn form has now gone from a Stage 4 to Stage 5. The ngram ratio of damn thing to damned thing is 3:1.

3. DIVED OR DOVE

Dived has long been considered the correct past tense of dive, but the use of dove has been growing for decades under the influence of drove. Dove was a Stage 4 that has now made it to Stage 5. The ngram ratio of she dove to she dived is 1.2:1.

4. STRODE OR STRIDDEN

After someone strides into a room, have they strode or stridden into it? Strode has made strides here, raising in ranking from a Stage 3 all the way to a Stage 5. The ratio for had strode to had stridden is 3:1.

5. FREE REIN OR FREE REIGN

The original formulation of free rein points to an image of a horse, not royalty. But reign is on the rise in this phrase. It was a Stage 2 that has now been judged a Stage 3.

6. IMPACTFUL 

Impactful is still called “barbarous jargon,” but where in the last edition it was deemed Stage 1 ("rejected"), it has moved up to Stage 2 and is merely "widely shunned."

7. CORD OR CHORD

Properly it’s vocal cord and strike a chord but people often get cord and chord confused. Vocal chord for cord has gotten more common, moving from a Stage 2 to a Stage 3, but strike a cord has gone down in rank, from Stage 2 to Stage 1 at a ratio of 25:1, showing that acceptability rankings are not a one-way ticket to everything becoming acceptable.

Learn more about subtle distinctions in the way we use words from the 6000 other entries like this in Garner's Modern English Usage.

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9 Things You Should Keep in Mind Around Someone Observing Ramadan
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To mark the ninth (and most holy) month in the Islamic calendar, Muslims around the world observe Ramadan. Often compared to Lent in Christianity and Yom Kippur in Judaism, Ramadan is all about restraint. For one month, Muslims observing Ramadan fast during the day and then feast at night.

By abstaining from food and water (as well as sex, smoking, fighting, etc.) during daylight, Muslims strive to practice discipline, instill gratitude for what they have, and draw closer to Allah. To be respectful and not annoy observers, here are nine things you should never say or do to someone observing Ramadan.

1. DON'T JOKE ABOUT WEIGHT LOSS.

A traditional iftar meal.
A traditional iftar meal.
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Although it might be tempting to joke about Ramadan being a good excuse to lose weight, it is a time for spiritual reflection and is a serious matter. Observers undertake the challenge of fasting for religious and spiritual reasons rather than aesthetic ones. And, once the sun sets each night, many Muslims prepare a hearty iftar (the meal that breaks the fast) of dates, curries, rice dishes, and other delicious foods. The suhoor (the pre-dawn meal) is often fresh fruit, bread, cheese, and dishes that are high in fiber and complex carbohydrates. So the idea of a cleanse is pretty far from their minds.

2. DON'T MAKE ASSUMPTIONS.

An Indian Muslim student recites from the Quran in a classroom during the holy month of Ramadan.
NOAH SEELAM, AFP/Getty Images

There are approximately 1.8 billion Muslims around the world, but not all of them observe Ramadan the same way. Although most observant Muslims fast for Ramadan, don't assume that every Muslim you meet has the same methods, traditions, and attitudes towards fasting. For some, Ramadan is more about prayer, reading the Qur'an, and performing acts of charity than merely about forgoing food and drink. And for those who may be exempted from the daily fasting, such as pregnant or nursing women, the elderly, or those with various health conditions, they might not appreciate the reminder from nosey busy-bodies that they aren't participating in the traditional way.

3. SAY "RAMADAN MUBARAK" INSTEAD OF "HAPPY RAMADAN."

A sign which reads
A sign which reads "Ramadan Kareem" in Arabic is seen pictured in front of the Burj Khalifa in downtown Dubai.
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Rather than wishing someone a happy Ramadan, being more thoughtful with your choice of words can show that you understand and respect the sanctity of their holy month. Saying "Ramadan Mubarak" or "Ramadan Kareem" are the traditional ways to impart warm wishes—they both convey the generosity and blessings associated with the month. The actual party comes after Ramadan, when Muslims celebrate Eid al-Fitr, an up to three-day festival that involves plenty of food, time with family, and gifts.

4. DON'T BE A FOOD PUSHER.

Muslim woman saying no to an apple.
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Even if the idea of not eating or drinking all day might be unfathomable to you, don't push food onto anyone observing Ramadan. While fasting all day for a month can cause mild fatigue, dehydration, and dizziness, don't try to convince participating Muslims to eat or drink something—they are fully aware of any side effects they may feel throughout the day. Instead, be respectful of their decision to fast and offer to lend a hand with something like chores, errands, or anything unrelated to food.

5. ACCEPT THAT WATER ISN'T ON THE MENU.

Dates and a glass of water.
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Muslims who observe Ramadan don't sip any liquids during daytime. No water, coffee, tea, or juice. Zilch. Going without water is even harder than going without food, so be aware of the struggle and accept it. It's all part of the sacrifice and self-discipline inherent in Ramadan.

6. RESPECT PEOPLE'S PRIVACY.

Pregnant woman doing yoga.
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Some Muslims choose not to fast during Ramadan for medical or other personal reasons, and they may not appreciate being badgered with questions about why they may be eating or drinking rather than fasting. Children and the elderly generally don't fast all day, and people who are sick are exempt from fasting. Other conditions that preclude fasting during Ramadan are pregnancy, breastfeeding, and menstruation (although, if possible, people generally make up the days later).

7. BE MINDFUL OF ENERGY LEVELS.

Woman running on the beach.
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Eschewing food and drink for hours at a time can cause lethargy, so be aware that Muslims observing Ramadan may be more tired than usual. Your Muslim friends and coworkers don't stop working for an entire month, but they may tweak their schedules to allow for more rest. They may also stay indoors more (to prevent overheating) and avoid unnecessary physical activity to conserve energy. So, don't be offended if they aren't down for a pick-up game of basketball or soccer. We can't all be elite athletes.

8. DON'T OBSESS OVER FOOD AND HUNGER.

Family playing in the park.
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One of the worst things you can do to someone on a new diet is to obsess over all the cheeseburgers, pizza, and cupcakes they can't have. Similarly, most Muslims observing Ramadan don't want to have in-depth conversations about all the food and beverages they're avoiding. So, be mindful that you don't become the constant reminder of how many hours are left until sundown—just as you shouldn't joke about weight loss, you shouldn't call attention to any hunger pangs.

9. DON'T BE AFRAID TO EAT YOUR OWN FOOD.

Coworkers discussing a project on couches.
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Although it's nice to avoid talking about food in front of a fasting Muslim, don't be afraid to eat your own food as you normally would. Seeing other people eating and drinking isn't offensive—Muslims believe that Ramadan is all about sacrifice and self-discipline, and they're aware that not everyone participates. However, perhaps try to avoid scheduling lunch meetings or afternoon barbecues with your Muslim colleagues and friends. Any of those can surely wait until after Ramadan ends.

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