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Tax Relief

Rosie Right

A writer here at Style asked Rosie about the meaning and derivation of the phrase scot-free. And should it be written with a capital S?

This was not a difficult problem to research, because Rosie's Webster's New World Dictionary, Fourth Edition, includes an entry for scot (no capital). The definition of this is "money assessed or paid; tax; levy.…" This makes perfect sense when applied to the phrase scot-free.

An amplification can be found on the Word Detective's Web site This says:

"I'd be willing to bet that many people think that 'scot free,' meaning 'evading a customary cost or penalty or 'unscathed,' has something to do with Scotland. After all, the Scottish people have a reputation for sharp dealing and penny-pinching. And although national reputations are almost always specious, frugality is an admirable quality, and I don't think most Scots would have a problem with being known for their ability to avoid unnecessary taxes, for instance.

"But 'scot-free,' as it turns out, has absolutely nothing to do with Scotland or the Scottish people. The 'scot' in question comes from the Old English word 'sceot,' meaning a tax or penalty. … anyone who managed to avoid the tax collector got away 'scot-free.'"

In her capacity as a copy editor, Rosie was glad to get such a clear answer: no capital S.

From the copy editors' Internet chat group comes the complaint that the word process is so trendy that it is being inserted where it is not needed and is annoying. The fashion started, perhaps, with the international peace-making efforts in the Middle East, in the Balkans — indeed, all over the world. Or perhaps it began in one of the business schools where much of our jargon seems to originate.

The word process has slightly differing meanings in the dictionaries Rosie consulted: Webster's New World College Dictionary, Fourth Edition, gives the first meaning for process as "the course of being done: chiefly in in process. But the third meaning fits better: "a continuing development involving many changes (the process of digestion)."

The New Oxford Dictionary of English (1998) gives as its first meaning of the noun: "a series of actions or steps taken in order to achieve a particular end: military operations could jeopardize the peace process."

Bingo. In this case, process is apt, although the peace process seems to take more than a lifetime. But just because it fits neatly in this usage doesn't mean it needs to become almost a verbal tic. As with most trendy words, process will probably drop back into only occasional and appropriate use.

Let Rosie hear from you by telephone (358-0825, ext. 322), letter (1707 Summit Ave., Suite 201, Richmond, Va. 23230), or e-mail (

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