OK, readers. I'll make you a deal. If you write me to tell me I made a mistake in this column and you're wrong, I'll publish a whole new column on your mistake, making it clear that I am an untouchable authority I am and that you were wrong to ever challenge me. But if you point out a mistake I made and you're right, the silence that follows will be deafening. Deal?
Aw, come on!
OK. Then I guess I owe a little mea culpa to Professor Burton Karson, who I picked on in a recent column, but who more recently busted me for writing, "And it is this defiant nature of idioms that make it OK ... " (And who, no doubt, will pick right back at me for not writing "whom I picked on.")
Karson pointed out, correctly dang him, that the singular "nature" requires a singular verb, "makes." Another reader also caught my mistake.
At this point you're probably thinking, "See? It's not so painful to 'fess up to errors. Right?"
Wrong. Still stings. But confessing errors shared by at least two fellow word columnists and at least a dozen readers stings a lot less.
I'm talking about a recent column on the expression, "went missing." I, along with a lot of other people, labeled this expression as grammatically indefensible but an accepted idiom. Then I read an e-mail from Bob Newsom of Newport Beach.
Bob pointed out that "go missing" and "went missing" are, in fact, perfectly grammatical. Here's why: The verb "go" means, among other things, "to pass into a certain condition, state, etc.; become; turn"
That's why a room can "go black," a person "went bohemian" and our TV signal has "gone digital." "Go" works just fine with all kinds of adjectives -- including "missing."
I'd like to point out that it was longtime grammar columnist James Kilpatrick who steered me wrong on that one. I put full responsibility on him.
So now that I've proven that I can acknowledge my own mistakes, let's get back to doing what I do best: Pointing out others' questionable usage in order to make myself feel big. Today's victim, sent in by Harry Avant, is none other than Pulitzer Prize-winning LA Times journalist Michael Hiltzik.
Re: Hiltzik's recent sentence, "'Born in 1939 to a French Canadian family in Maine, he immigrated with them to California at age 7,'" Avant wrote: "It seems to me that immigrated is not correct since he did not change country of residence only location within a country. What is your opinion?"
Opinions, as you've seen, get me in trouble. So from now on, I don't have opinions. I have only reference books.
Garner's Modern American Usage: "Immigrate = to migrate into or enter (a country). Emigrate = to migrate away from or exit (a country). In other words, immigrate considers the movement from the perspective of the destination; emigrate considers it from the perspective of the departure point."
Chicago Manual of Style: "To immigrate is to enter a country to live, leaving a past home. To emigrate is to leave one country to live in another one.... Someone who moves from Ireland to the United States is an immigrant here, and an emigrant there."
Associate Press Stylebook: "One who leaves a country emigrates from it. One who comes into a country immigrates."
Of course, there's always one defiant apple to spoil an otherwise consistent bunch. In this case, Webster's New World College Dictionary (which is the default dictionary used by the Associated Press and the Los Angeles Times): "immigrate: to come into a new country, region, or environment, esp. in order to settle there: opposed to EMIGRATE."
So because there's no official rule-maker in American English, if one respected authority says it, you, I or Hiltzik can get away with it.
Even though Harry and I can secretly agree, with a snicker, that a Pulitzer winner should have done better.
* JUNE CASAGRANDE is a freelance writer. She can be reached at JuneTCN@aol.com.