Garner’s Tip of the Day: Miscellaneous Entries

sum total of. This phrase is technically a redundancy — “sum” meaning “total” — but it’s a venial one not likely to disappear from the modern lexicon. And the phrase can be especially useful for emphatic purposes in such lines as “the sum total of our knowledge” — although a few sticklers would probably prefer “totality” there. sundry (= various) is, in American English, a quaint term with literary associations. The redundant cliché “various and sundry” ought to be avoided even in the most casual contexts. supererogatory has two almost opposite sets of connotations, some positive and others negative. The core sense is “going beyond what is required.” On the one hand, the word may connote “superfluous,” and it is often used in this way — e.g.: “The best opera directors accept this primacy of music in creating theatrical illusion; the worst ones swamp it with overblown stage effects [that] make the music, as it were, supererogatory.” Terry Teachout, “Words, Music, Opera,” Commentary, Dec. 1995, at 57. On the other hand, it may mean “performing more than duty or circumstances require; doing more than is minimally needed” — e.g.: “She believed that . . . Christian morality . . . requires supererogatory acts toward one’s neighbor, even the neighbor who is an enemy.” Vigen Guroian, “The New Nationalism & the Gospel Witness,” Commonweal, 14 July 1995, at 11. supernumerary is a fancy adjective meaning (1) “extra”; (2) (of an employee) “engaged only in case of special need”; or (3) “superfluous.” The word is sometimes wrongly written *"supernumery" — e.g.: “He was . . . a former supernumery [read ‘supernumerary’] police officer in East Windsor and had also served with the U.S. Navy.” “John F. Corbett” (obit.), Hartford Courant, 7 May 1997, at B10. *Invariably inferior forms. For information about the Language-Change Index click here. ——————– Quotation of the Day: “Passive voice will always have certain important uses, but remember that you must keep your eye on it at all times or it will drop its ‘o’ and change swiftly from passive voice to passive vice.” Lucille Vaughan Payne, The Lively Art of Writing 101 (1965).
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