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Watch those words!

Rosie Right

We all know language books usually include a list of commonly confused words, but Rosie came across a new one (to her) March 20 in the New York Times. The confusion is a copy editor's nightmare. Reporter Allison Mitchell, writing about Sen. McCain's return to the Senate after his unsuccessful campaign for the Republican presidential nomination, quoted Fred Wertheimer, the president of Democracy 21, a nonpartisan group advocating tighter campaign finance laws:

"The danger here is clear — people trying to co-op the campaign finance reform issue and pass off fake reforms as real."

Webster's New World College Dictionary, Fourth Edition, tells us that the word co-op is an informal noun and means a cooperative. It seemed possible that somehow Mr. Wertheimer could have meant that these people were being cooperative with Sen. McCain. Not likely, however. Rosie called Mr. Wertheimer and, as she had guessed, he said he meant co-opt. This word, among its meanings, includes one much more likely to reflect reality: "to make use of for one's own purposes, take over or adopt."

The confusion of co-op and co-opt should take its place along with affect and effect, compliment and complement, imminent and eminent and —dare I say it?— its and it's.

The Spell-checker Strikes Again

According to Reuters news service, Microsoft has suffered a major embarrassment in France. Its French-language spell-checker has "suggested replacing anti-stress with the word anti-Arab. The company has rushed out with statements that this is an error and that they "are sensitive to things which confuse people and ... are very respectful of people getting hurt. ... Microsoft has no problem with the Arab world ..."

If Microsoft thought this would be easily overlooked, it was mistaken. "France's national CFDT trade union denounced Microsoft for its racist turn of phrase.' In this litigious world it's best to be very, very careful of words.

Rosie sympathizes. When one uses the spell-checker you need to be alert. Sometimes its suggestions can be ludicrous. It decrees that Charlton Heston's name should be changed to Charlatan Festoon and Style's arts and entertainment editor, Jessica Ronky Haddad, should be changed to Jessica Raunchy Hatted.

The Oxford English Dictionary is going online. In the material sent to editors to publicize this move the editors tell us that, "Everyone thinks the buzzwords of today were coined yesterday — actually, the chances are they were first written down several years ago, and coined the year before that ..." To Rosie's surprise, OED lists one of these 'old phrases', politically correct, as having been first used in 1793.

Let Rosie hear from you by telephone (358-0825), letter (1118 W. Main St., Richmond, Va. 23220), fax (355-9089) or e-mail

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