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Rosie Right

Our language and how it works.


The Queen's English

This letter came from reader Bonnie Atwood:

"Dear Rosie, The words surrounding the Queen's visit brought forth many opportunities for word-lovers to gnash their teeth. One that set me off was a newscaster's description of Her Majesty's 'signature white gloves.' If she were the only woman who ever wore white gloves that would have, indeed, been her 'signature.'

"But white gloves were standard accessories for girls and women of her generation. Any woman who is now over the age of 60 wore white gloves as a young girl, at least on Easter Sunday, as she sat with dozens of mothers and grandmothers who also wore white gloves. Perhaps white gloves were and are the 'signature' of that generation, but they are not the 'signature' of Queen Elizabeth."

Ms. Atwood is correct. Although the Oxford English Dictionary gives various meanings of signature, none exactly fits this case, but Webster's New World College Dictionary Fourth Edition tells us signature means "an identifying characteristic or mark."

White gloves were definitely the mark of a generation. As reluctant as I am to admit it, I came from the age when, as a student in a stern boarding school, I was required to wear white gloves when I went to the movies.

Waning War

Another usage is under fire at the moment: the term war on terror. In an April 1 article in the Washington Post, reporter Peter Beinart writes that the phrase "war on terror" could be nearing its final days. War seemed a better word than crime and "critics have noted that terror is a tactic and not America's real enemy."

In a March 25 op-ed piece in the same newspaper, Zbigniew Brzezinski wrote: "The phrase itself is meaningless. It defines neither a geographic context nor our presumed enemies. Terrorism is not an enemy but a technique of warfare — political intimidation through the killing of unarmed non-combatants."

It's not easy to replace war on terror. No one seems to have come up with an adequate substitute, but the pundits are trying.

Let Rosie hear from you by e-mail (rozanne.epps@styleweekly.com), by telephone (358-0825, ext. 322) or by regular mail (c/o Style Weekly, 1707 Summit Ave., Suite 201, Richmond, VA 23230).

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