verbal; oral. “Verbal” = (1) of, relating to, or expressed in words, whether written or oral; or (2) of, relating to, or expressed through the spoken word. “Oral” = (1) of or relating to the mouth; or (2) of, relating to, or expressed through the spoken word. Many regard sense 2 as the exclusive province of “oral,” preferring that “verbal” not be used in this way. It’s a matter, they might say, of slipshod extension. In fact, given the primary sense of “verbal,” the movie producer Samuel Goldwyn wasn’t really very ironic when he remarked, “A verbal contract isn’t worth the paper it’s written on.” After all, a written contract is verbal. The phrase requires “oral.” The slippage is especially acute when “verbal” is opposed to “written” — e.g.: “Take care with words, verbal [read “oral”] and written.” Sydney Omarr, “Horoscope,” Wash. Post, 22 June 1997, at F2. Take care indeed! In recent years, some people have said that they feel awkward using “oral” because of prurient connotations; that is, the word seems most often to appear in the phrase “oral sex” — so much so that “oral” by itself connotes fellatio or cunnilingus. Why this should be so is hard to fathom, since we have “oral surgery” and “oral reports,” not to speak of “oral commitments” and “oral communication.” If you think of “oral” in a narrow sexual sense, you should immediately wash your mouth out with soap. Otherwise, we may be in danger of losing a perfectly good word. Language-Change Index — “verbal” as a synonym for “oral”: Stage 4. For information about the Language-Change Index click here. ——————– Quotation of the Day: “Some of the worst things ever written have been due to an avoidance of the ordinary word, and the mistaken choice of what the writer thought was a more dignified word or phrase.” Henry Bett, Some Secrets of Style 102-03 (1932).