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Introduction and Table of Contents

Were I but King of Anglophonia

Confusions, Euphemisms, and Charged Words

Roman legions that severely displeased their commanders, for example by displaying cowardice in battle, were sometimes punished by being decimated; that is, every tenth legionnaire was killed. This must have made quite an impression on the surviving ninety percent - such an impression that, many centuries later, many English speakers think that decimate is the same as destroy or devastate. This is a confusion that annoys the King, and his subjects are urged - nay, commanded - to learn the proper meaning of decimate and to use the word properly. You should probably just avoid the word entirely. If you mean severely damaged, say so. If you mean devastated, say so. If you mean destroyed, say so. But don't say decimated if you are referring to anything other than the 1/10 of a population that was killed.

Another common confusion that annoys the King is the use of reticent when the speaker means reluctant. Reticence refers to an aversion to speaking. Reluctance refers to an aversion to acting. Thus: "Johnny was reticent when the police questioned him about the body parts in his basement. Later, Johnny was reluctant to walk the final mile."

Queen Leonore's Addition

Do your compositions comprise many errors? Perhaps so, if you think that Queen Leonore just misused the word comprise. But lo, she did not, for the word comprise means to include. Example: "His impressive art collection comprises paintings, sketches, tapestries, and numerous pieces of sculpture." Nowadays, however, one most often hears this lovely word misused as follows: "His collection is comprised of paintings, sketches, tapestries, and numerous pieces of sculpture." The speaker obviously thinks that is comprised of is a more sophisticated way of saying consists of, or is made up of. It is not. Remember: Comprise means nothing more than to include. If you can't remember how to use the word comprise correctly, just stop using it. Include is a perfectly good substitute.

Queen Leonore can assure you that the horrible word stomp will never receive the royal stamp of approval. The correct word, in all its various applications, is stamp. For example: "We imagine that Little Georgie B. stamps his little feet if anyone dares to suggest that he should try to read a newspaper, or forego his long daily nap, or take fewer than multiple months of vacation per year. Then he stamps up the stairs to be soothed by the simpering Lady Laura, who, we are pretty sure, hails from a very creepy place named Stepford."

The queen begs you to help stamp out, or quash, the ghastly misuse of the word squash. You eat the vegetable squash (well, King David never does, or at least not if he can help it), and you would squash a grape or an insect if you were to step on one. But you do not squash customs or trends or other abstract things. You quash them, repress them, wipe them out.

Rightfully may the speakers and students of English envy the speakers and students of Spanish when it comes to learning the plural forms of nouns! For in Spanish, the plural of every noun ends in either -s or -es. Por ejemplo: casa/casas, papel/papeles. What could be simpler? English, however, is not so simple. Yes, we have card/cards, and office/offices, but we also have man/men, woman/women, goose/geese, and numerous other tricky plural forms. We also have, from the Greek, phenomenon/phenomena. Yes, dear readers, the former is singular and the latter is plural. Learn the distinction well, and do not be misled by nouns of Latin origin, such as alumna/alumnae, where the -a ending is the feminine singular.

The King's Addition to the Queen's Addition

At the same time, don't be fooled by words that appear to be of Latin origin but are not. Octopus comes from Greek, not Latin, and so the plural is not octopi. Some eight-footed dweebs will insist that the proper plural is octopodes. Be wary around such people. Use the straightforward anglicized plural octopuses, which is blessed by the Sacred Dictionary of Oxford.


Achilles is a character in a legend. Brad Pitt is not. Achilles is the hero of an ancient myth and he almost certainly never existed. Pitt almost certainly* exists in the here and now. Famous entertainers are not legends or legendary, unless they are fictitious characters in ancient myths about famous entertainers. At the most, the talents for which they are overpaid are fictitious, but they themselves are not fictional and mythical and therefore are not legends or legendary.

* After all, how can you be sure?

Queen Leonore's Addition

Whatever became of the perfectly good word famous? I, for one, would be more than happy to have that lovely adjective justifiably applied to me and my beloved king. To be a legend, one has to be both ancient and fictitious. We would never wish to be either.


Words change their meanings over time, and this can result in fairly serious confusion. You may find yourself in an argument with someone who asserts that something is always true. You respond by pointing out a case which contradicts that assertion. "Oh, that's just the exception that proves the rule," he says testily. Vanquished, you slink away with your tail between your legs.

No! Do not slink! An Anglophonian, a subject of this glorious empire, should never slink! More to the point, your opponent has demonstrated his misunderstanding of the word proof.

If the exception proves the rule, then why is the proof of the pudding in the eating, and why is distilled liquor referred to as being of a certain proof?

The original meaning of proof was not "a demonstration that something is so" but rather a test. The real test of a pudding is not how it looks or smells but how it tastes. "The proof of the pudding is in the eating" is equivalent to "Handsome is as handsome does." In connection with alcohol, proof has a more convoluted history, but it also refers to testing - in this case, testing the alcoholic content of a liquid by volume. (At one time, believe it or not, the test involved gunpowder. For an explanation, see

In the case of a rule, one tests (proves) a rule by looking for exceptions. The more exceptions one finds, the less faith one has in the rule. So you can see that in the dialogue described in the first paragraph above, you should have responded loftily, "Of course the exception proves the rule, you foolish fellow. And that is precisely why what you have asserted is nonsense. Now, I will look calmly into the distance to spare you embarrassment while you slink away with your tail between your legs."

The Big Skinny

The King is certainly in no position to lecture other people about the excess flesh around their middles. However, he will say this much for himself: He never says he's big when he means he's fat. At the same time, when he embarks on yet another determined effort to fit into older pairs of trousers, he does not imagine becoming skinny, for that would be just as unhealthy as being fat. Rather, he wants to be lean.

Let's get to the core of the matter. Big is a euphemism used to avoid insulting fat people or used by fat people to avoid facing reality. Calling all non-fat people skinny is an attempt to dismiss as unhealthy or unattractive all those who are not fat. This is childish as well as linguistically offensive. Lean, slim, slender are fine and evocative words, and those who are properly described by them deserve our admiration. (Unless they are so genetically blessed that they really can stay that way despite eating whatever they want and never exercising, in which case they are despicable.)


The reflexive pronouns - myself, yourself, himself, herself, itself, ourselves, yourselves, themselves - have a limited role in English. They are used when the action reflects back on the subject: "I can't understand myself." "She hates herself." "He killed himself." "They lied to themselves." Any other use is illogical, annoying, and impermissible. Anglophonians caught saying, "Myself and John are going to a movie," or, "I'm fine. How about yourself?" will be forced to hurt themselves severely.

Queen Leonore's Addition

King David has forgotten to add that the above -self/-selves endings can also be used in English to emphasize the pronoun. Example: "I myself would never misuse the word." But why bother with anything so stilted and self-centered sounding? Just use the pronoun by itself.

What grates on Queen Leonore's sensitive nerves, as well as on King David's, is the current misuse of the -self forms as a substitute for the subject or object personal pronoun. Example: Don't say "Mary and myself composed this piece." Say "Mary and I composed this piece." Don't say "That piece was composed by Mary and myself." Say "That piece was composed by Mary and me." Do people use the -self/-selves forms because they are unsure of the correct forms of the subject and object personal pronoun forms? If so, here they are, in all their delightful Anglophonian simplicity:

Subject pronouns: I, you, he, she, it, we, they. Example: "Toby and he know how to write well."

Object pronouns: me, you, him, her, it, us, them. Example: "We told Mark and her to study the pronouns."


Anglophonians who commit these particular sins of confusion in public for the first time will be confined for two years in a nunnery of an order that observes a vow of silence. Alternative arrangement will be made for those who find, or would be likely to come to find, nuns sexually attractive.

Repeat offenders will be decimated by volume.

Introduction and Table of Contents

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