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updated: 11/4/2017 6:19 PM

Grammar Moses: Introducing one-offs. What are your favorites?

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  • Trey Higgens of Palatine noted there are two misspellings in this sign.

    Trey Higgens of Palatine noted there are two misspellings in this sign.
    Courtesy of Trey Higgens

 
 

I've come up with a new occasional feature for this column that I'll call "one-offs."

While not exactly a double-entendre (more on that toward the end of the column), "one-off" does have two meanings.

First -- and you can thank me now -- they're quick hits.

Second, they'll examine pairs of words that are just one letter off and are routinely used interchangeably.

If you can think of one-offs you'd like me to write about, send me an email.

Here are four of them to get us started:

Ensure/insure

To "ensure" is to make certain something happens.

A good mother ensures her boys become good husbands.

To "insure" is to cover one's financial losses. That's it.

It's important to insure one's valuables.

Farther/further

"Farther" connotes physical distance.

School always seems farther away when you're running late.

"Further" connotes figurative distance. It's often associated with the degree of something.

It's good to look further into a prospective financial planner's background than the title on her business card.

Gantlet/gauntlet

A "gantlet" is a flogging ordeal, whether literally and figuratively.

Our investigative piece had to run the gantlet of all the senior editors before we could publish it.

A "gauntlet" is an old-timey glove. To throw down the gauntlet is to issue a challenge; to pick up the gauntlet is to accept said challenge. This is used figuratively for the most part these days.

Dad threw down the gauntlet: If I could beat him at arm wrestling, he would rake the yard.

Stanch/staunch

To "stanch" is to stop the flow or spread of a liquid.

If I hadn't lost at arm wrestling, I wouldn't have to stanch the blood from the blisters I got from raking all weekend.

"Staunch" is an adjective meaning resolute or having a strong constitution (lowercase).

As a staunch Republican, Uncle Joe never would have voted for Pat Paulsen.

Double-entendre

At the top of this column, I mentioned that one-offs have two meanings but aren't exactly double-entendres.

That's because a double-entendre -- at least in this century -- is an ambiguity that has two meanings with one of them being risque.

My difficulty, of course, is finding an example suitable for a family newspaper. There is a great accidental double-entendre circulating on Facebook these days (a badly constructed newspaper headline), but you'll have to track that one down yourself.

For the purposes of this column, you'll have to settle for this song lyric: "If I said you had a beautiful body, would you hold it against me?"

Sign of the times

Finally, reader Trey Higgens sent me a photo of a perplexing sign. It's hard to tell what happened in the mind of the person who typed this into a computer, which presumably had a backspace key, but it's an example of cascading errors -- all in one word.

Is it possible to misspell one word twice? I think this answers the question.

Write carefully!

• Jim Baumann is vice president/managing editor of the Daily Herald. Write him at jbau-mann@dailyherald.com. Put Grammar Moses in the subject line. You also can friend or follow Jim at facebook.com/baumannjim.

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