James J. Kilpatrick

The Court of Peeves, Crotchets & Irks resumes its April assizes with a motion from Vic Bastien of Tulsa, Okla. He moves for an injunction banning the use of "as of yet." Aaargh!

His motion is granted. "As of yet" is one of those flabby circumlocutions beloved of flabby writers and speakers everywhere. They say, "The sun has not risen as of yet." "The race is not over as of yet." "As of yet we have not heard from Amelia Earhart." The yawing "as of" adds nothing useful to the simple "yet." And by the way, it's no wonder we haven't yet heard from Amelia Earhart. She vanished with her plane in 1937.

Mollie Davies of Jacksonville, Ore., seeks a declaratory judgment on the idiomatic "I could care less" and its variant, "I couldn't care less." The court has ruled before on this contentious matter but willingly returns to the fray. The two put-downs are easily distinguished. The former acknowledges some degree of concern -- a slight degree, to be sure, but at least some concern. The latter resonates a cry of complete negation: We do not care at all!

On a related puzzler, Patricia Spaeth of Auburn, Wash., moves for an injunction against "one of the only," as in, "She is one of the only sopranos ever to sing in three octaves." Her motion must be denied, not because it is unfounded, but because this idiomatic impossibility is too firmly entrenched to be dislodged. All the court's dictionaries concede that "only" has come to mean "a very few." The example approved by Merriam-Webster is "one of the only areas not yet explored." As the court has morosely concluded many times, a Gresham's Law on coins is constantly at work on language. Chipped definitions drive out the pure ones.

Robert L. Shalkop of Salisbury, N.C., not only joins in Ms. Spaeth's motion but also files a separate complaint. He would enjoin such ungrammatical confusions as, "When a person orders Chardonnay with roast beef, they should be thrown out of the joint." His motion will be granted, but not without a comment, to wit: O tempora, O mores!

Hundreds of years of English tradition once decreed that a neuter noun (person) takes a masculine referent (he), but tradition began to wear thin after the 19th Amendment gave women the vote in 1920. The trend toward equal referents steadily gains momentum. On our sister court, Justice William Brennan regularly teased Chief Justice William Rehnquist by flaunting feminine referents. Today Justice John Paul Stevens observes the same pixilated practice.

James J. Kilpatrick

James J. Kilpatrick has been reporter, editor, columnist, commentator, and briefly an adjunct professor of journalism.

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