Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day: Word Patronage.

Word Patronage. Word patronage is “the tendency to take out one’s words and look at them, to apologize for expressions that either need no apology or should be quietly refrained from” (Modern English Usage, 1st ed. at 733). A flourishing example today is “no pun intended.” But others are ready at hand as well — e.g.: “Hopefully — to use an ugly word — the dilemma will be solved by the proposed legislation.” In his preface to MEU’s second edition, Ernest Gowers indulged mildly in word patronage when he wrote: “This was indeed an epoch-making book in the strict sense of that overworked phrase” (p. iii). The tendency is not at all uncommon: o “The Bloomsberries were also relentlessly elitist, in the true sense of that much-misused word.” “Time to Decry Woolf and All Her Bloomsbury Snobs,” Daily Telegraph, 14 Sept. 1995, at 14. o “Ruth is meant to go through changes that give her some hint of — pardon this ghastly word — empowerment.” Liz Braun, “Ruth Walks Line Between Laughter and Tragedy,” Toronto Sun, 7 Feb. 1997, at 57. o “In future, I’ll explore alternative officing (don’t you hate all the new words?) with an open mind.” Lynette Evans, “Alternative Officing or How to Live Without People,” S.F. Examiner, 3 Sept. 1997, Habitat §, at 1. o “It is, to use a term now in vogue in feminist art discourse, a deeply gendered object, but it isn’t feminist at all.” Paul Richard, “Homer’s Debut on Display in D.C.,” Portland Press Herald, 7 Sept. 1997, at G1. For information about the Language-Change Index click here. Quotation of the Day: “Fiction is nothing less than the subtlest instrument for self-examination and self-display that Mankind has invented yet.” John Updike, “The Importance of Fiction,” in Odd Jobs: Essays and Criticism 86 (1991).
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