Grammar Moses: Upbraiding is not a good look

I once came across the word “upbraid” in my readings and smiled because teenage me saw this word differently.

I confess that many years ago when I first saw the word completely out of context I thought it was a noun used to describe a popular hairstsyle often found in weddings. Think up-do.

This was before “Star Wars” burst on the scene, mind you, but if you consider Princess Leia’s unusual coiffure, which resembled two enormous Cinnabons affixed bilaterally to her scalp, that’s what I envisioned an upbraid to be.

I’m not sure when I learned that it is a verb to describe scolding. Perhaps a learned person such as my father heard me misuse the word and upbraided me for misinterpreting “upbraid.”

Yes, this was the same misguided boy who around eighth grade heard “youth in Asia” when someone was describing a controversial subject. “What is so controversial about kids from China?” I thought to myself.

Not until

Many moons ago I had a conversation with reader David Bruun and held onto it for the right time. Seems from an exhaustive search of my archive that I never did publish it. So, David, if you’ve been holding your breath for a response, you can gasp now.

“The typical phrase in litigation is that the defendant is presumed innocent ‘until proven guilty,’” David wrote. “‘UNTIL’ implies it’s certain to occur. How about the senior citizen driver who is admonished that their driver’s license is valid ‘until’ they have an accident. Does not that suggest there will be the inevitable accident? When one states, ‘I can’t wait until the sunset,’ it refers to an event that will occur. Or when the stargazer states, ‘I can’t wait for the full moon.’ These are statements of certainty, not ‘if’ events.

David is correct, of course.

When I jump in to help editing, I often see instances of “will,” which expresses certainty, that should be “would,” which means something will happen if certain conditions are met.

You’ll find a lot about the presumption of innocence in the Bill of Rights, but not this phrase. “Presumed innocent until proven guilty” is widely attributed to British attorney William Garrow during a 1791 trial.

Bruun makes a terrific argument. Common usage in books over the last two centuries sways mightily toward Sir William’s phrase, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t use David’s phrase to give the defendant more benefit of the doubt, which is at the core of the presumption of innocence.

Oral, verbal, written

Quick: What are the differences?

Something that is oral is spoken (it has to do with the mouth.)

Something that is written is put into words on a page or computer screen (or poster or box car, I suppose.)

Something that is verbal straddles the fence between the two. Words are conveyed, but it could be expressed through voice or a some facsimile of a pen. Clearly the more flexible word.

So which word would apply if you’re a comic book artist making a thought bubble?

Write carefully!

• Jim Baumann is vice president/executive editor of the Daily Herald. You can buy Jim’s book, “Grammar Moses: A humorous guide to grammar and usage,” at Write him at and put “Grammar Moses” in the subject line. You also can friend or follow Jim at

Article Comments
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the "flag" link in the lower-right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.