Here's a peeve from John and Martha Rogers of Washington, D.C. They are irked – justifiably irked – by “kids,” and move for an injunction against its employment except by persons who raise goats.
Their motion will be emphatically granted.
In evidence they offer a recent column by Randy Cohen, the professional ethicist in the Sunday New York Times. The question put to Cohen had to do with a group of preschool children. All but one of them had been vaccinated against the usual diseases. Would it be ethical to expel the unvaccinated tot?
Cohen said “no,” though he conceded that parents “must provide for their kids' safety.”
“Kids!” cried the plaintiffs. “Kids! Kids! Kids! Cohen referred to these preschool children as `kids' five times in his first two paragraphs. They are NOT `kids.' A kid is a young goat, period!”
Hooray to Oxford!
Yes, but must in good conscience let's concede that the usual authorities support the Timesman. Merriam-Webster sanctions the colloquial “kid” in the sense of “a young person, especially a child.” Five other dictionaries surrender without a murmur. Only Oxford sniffs that we should avoid the usage “in formal writing.” Hooray for Oxford.
To the Times, bah!
Richard Murrell, of somewhere in Cyberspace, writes to complain about “like,” in the sense of “rivals like the Yankees.”
In evidence he offers four Horrid Examples from the Times. These include problems “like overfishing,” countries “like Russia and China,” American writers “like Stephen Crane” and novels “like `An American Tragedy.”' In each instance, he contends, the sense of “like” is not comparative but exemplary. Shouldn't we prefer problems, countries and writers “such as”?
The Times' Manual of Style & Usage specifically asserts that in these exemplary constructions “`like' is the preferred expression, rather than “such as.”
On this question, “bah!” to the Times. The first, most familiar deployment of the prepositional “like” is surely in the sense of “such as.” True, in most instances the apparent ambiguity may indeed be apparent rather than real. But why settle for even a nanosecond of uncertainty?
Donny Johnson of Tucson wants to return to another old controversy: When is “because” better than “since”? He offers in evidence an item a year ago in Sports Illustrated about tennis stars Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer.
They were about to play an exhibition match. The writer observed, “Since Nadal and Federer met in the finals of the French Open and Wimbledon in 2006, organizers figured the timing was ideal.”
“The sense of it,” Reader Johnson contends, “was clearly causal, not temporal, but it took a couple of readings to figure this out.”
I concur and cite an article a year ago in The New Yorker. The author was quoting Tina Brown on Princess Diana. We learned that Brown is “well qualified to tell this story, since it was Brown who wrote the Vanity Fair piece that first exposed …”
For a second example, Charles Isherwood reviewing a play in The New York Times says: “All this may come as a surprise, since Ms. Ruhl is still unknown to most New York theatergoers.”
Why take a chance?
The editors of Webster's Dictionary of English Usage clearly believe that the confusion caused by “since” lies somewhere between overblown and insubstantial, but I ask: Why take a chance? If the sense of a sentence is causal, use BECAUSE every time! Why be murky when it is so easy to be clear?