Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day: viable.

viable. “Viable” originally meant “capable of living; fit to live,” a sense that still applies in many phrases, such as a “viable fetus.” By acceptable extension it has come to refer figuratively to any idea or thing that might flourish. But in this use it’s a vogue word that can often be improved on — e.g.: o “Mr. Montague will . . . have the responsibility of signing off commercially viable [read ‘promising’] projects before they are put out to tender.” Michael Harrison, “Montague Named PFI Head,” Independent, 15 July 1997, at 18. o “They now have a viable [read ‘plausible’] successor to the Speaker in New York Congressman Bill Paxon.” Sandy Hume, “Deja Coup II,” New Republic, 29 Sept. 1997, at 10. The word has lately been the victim of slipshod extension, when used in the sense “feasible, practicable” {a viable plan}. One writer has noted that “dictionaries now give [as definitions for ‘viable’] ‘real,’ ‘workable,’ ‘vivid,’ ‘practicable,’ ‘important,’ newer definitions that seem only to confirm the critics’ complaints that the word has had the edge hopelessly ground off it.” Roy Copperud, American Usage and Style 405 (1980). Thus it is sometimes hard even to know what a writer means with “viable” — e.g.: “The white cotton shirt is still viable [read ‘acceptable’ or, possibly, ‘a possibility’], but it could also be traded for a softer, sheer-mesh top.” Valli Herman, “Sharpsuiters,” Dallas Morning News, 17 Sept. 1997, at E1. For information about the Language-Change Index click here. ————————————— Quotation of the Day: There can be no question that some words are splendid sounds, apart from everything else. Indeed, sound is never out of the question when either the quality of a single word is being considered, or the quality of several words as associated in a sentence. Henry Bett, Some Secrets of Style 213-14 (1932).
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