Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day: transpire.

transpire. The traditionally correct meaning of this word is “to pass through a surface; come to light; become known by degrees.” But that sense is now beyond redemption, though writers should be aware of it. Today, of course, the popular use of “transpire” is as a formal word equivalent to “happen,” “occur,” or “take place.” But when used in that way, “transpire” is a mere pomposity displacing an everyday word — e.g.: o “The group all had an interest in what was transpiring [read ‘happening’] in the Catholic Church as the Second Vatican Council got under way in 1962, Martinelli said.” Gerald Renner, “Witness Tells of Abuse by Priest,” Hartford Courant, 22 Aug. 1997, at A1. o “Satisfied that something unusual was indeed transpiring [read ‘happening’], the team then arranged for a visit to the house.” David Lazarus, “Ghostbuster Snares Clients on Net,” S.F. Chron., 13 Oct. 2002, at G1. Another loose usage occurs (not transpires) when “transpire” is used for “pass” or “elapse” — e.g.: “Three days transpired [read ‘passed’] between the call and discovery of the dead child.” Steven K. Paulson, “911 Call Was Made from Mansion Before Body Found,” Times Union (Albany), 10 Jan. 1997, at A3. All in all, “transpire” fits the definition of a skunked term: careful writers should avoid it altogether simply to avoid distracting readers, whether traditionalists (who dislike the modern usage) or others (who may not understand the traditional usage). Language-Change Index — “transpire” for “happen” or “occur”: Stage 4. For more information about the Language-Change Index click here. Quotation of the Day: “A bad or mistaken name may lead to wrong rules which may have a detrimental influence on the free use of language, especially in writing. Thus the term ‘preposition,’ or rather the unfortunate knowledge of the Latin etymology of this word, is responsible for that absurd aversion to putting a preposition at the end of a sentence which many schoolmasters and newspaper editors profess in utter ignorance of the principles and history of their own language.” Otto Jespersen, The Philosophy of Grammar 342 (1934; repr. 1965).
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