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WORD WATCH

Would the owner of “ownership” please report to security?

Language hoodlums have been tooling around with it as a synonym for responsibility or pride, as if you can own something by taking personal responsibility for the way you interact with it. This criminal use can often be spotted when the word is written as “ownership in” instead of “ownership of.” If you tell your teenager to take ownership in the family car, you’re telling him to wash it and top off the tank. If he took ownership of it, he’d sell it and buy a motorcycle.

And if your boss tells you to “own” your job, you’re not moving to a higher tax bracket.

A LexisNexis search turns up 843 uses of “sense of ownership” in U.S. newspapers and wires in the last year, up from 657 uses five years ago. We’ve read that children are supposed to take ownership in their schools, but that might be news to teachers, who have been told that they are the new owners of schools. A think-tank wonk told senators that Iraqis must take ownership in their democracy and security.

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The News Journal of Wilmington, Del., reports that juvenile delinquents need “a sense of ownership in their own success” while in jail.

In the San Luis Obispo Tribune, a Banana Republic store manager said, “I instill ownership in my employees,” most of whom probably would prefer to own a piece of that republic than simply act like they do.

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-- BRENDAN BUHLER

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