Watch your Place!

rogersgeorge on October 8th, 2017

This kind of mistake is mainly a result of carelessness, I think. Some words refer to points in space, not general areas. These include “center,” and “base.” Here are two examples of doing it wrong. They both treat these points as vague areas that you hang around the edges of.

Usenet’s creation was based around the idea that computers were becoming sophisticated enough that they could be used to hold conversations, and there was plenty of conversation going on.

Beverly Hills, 90210 originally centered around Brenda (Shannen Dougherty) and Brandon Walsh (Priestley), middle-class high-school-age twins from Minnesota who relocate to ritzy Beverly Hills with their parents.

Your base is a single place—you’re based on something. (Don’t say “based out of,” either.) Same for “center.” You should be centered on something.

These examples of muddy thinking are not a good thing when you explain something. You need to be precise. Maybe you can get away with it when you do a grocery list. That food is around here somewhere…

PS—After I finished this post, I ran into a good example of “based out of,” which I repeat, you shouldn’t write. Use
based in” or “based at.”

The Metric Geometry and Gerrymandering Group, based out of Tufts University is leading the charge to build a consensus on how math can make better districtings.

It’s a graphic article, but it’s worthwhile. Find the article here.

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More who-whom trickiness

rogersgeorge on February 2nd, 2014

I’ve brought up the subject of correct use of who and whom several times in this blog. (Do a search on the words in the field to the right and you’ll find several.) Here’s another situation that’s easy to get wrong, especially if you’re used to using whom after a preposition, which is usually correct. First the quote, from This Day in History for January 11:

In the first flight of its kind, American aviator Amelia Earhart departs Wheeler Field in Honolulu, Hawaii, on a solo flight to North America. Hawaiian commercial interests offered a $10,000 award to whoever accomplished the flight first.

What’s that who(ever) doing after the preposition “to”? Shouldn’t it be “whomever”? Nope! Here’s why: Prepositions take an object, which is a noun or pronoun—or a noun clause, which we have here. See that verb (accomplished)? Verbs need subjects, and that’s where the “whoever” comes in. It’s the subject of the verb “accomplished.”  The whole noun clause is the object of “to.”  The rule with clauses is to go from the inside out, and since “whoever” is inside the clause, that takes precedence over being right after the preposition.

Here’s an example of how to do it wrong, from the February issue of Scientific American, no less. Page 18, if you want to find it yourself.

Authorities are concerned not just with the volume of the ivory trade, but with whom is doing the killing.

Watch out for those noun clauses and your writing will fly better.