or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Coming Up

Heather Havrilesky is Salon.com's television writer (it's called "I Like To Watch", which I suppose is a reference to Being There) and she's generally likeable, amusing and well worth reading, but in yesterday's column she had this paragraph:

This is what many of us find extremely depressing about Hurricane Katrina: We all knew this was a possibility. Even Iknew that there was an eminent disaster looming last Saturday, because I saw it on TV. Remember? It was on this show called "Nova ScienceNow" that explained how a Category 5 hurricane had the potential to flood New Orleans with 25 feet of water.

An eminent disaster? As opposed to, you know, all those average, garden-variety disasters?

The next part of her piece begins,

Oh yeah, you don't really read this column all the way to the end, do you? Yet another entry for the Stuff Is Being Overlooked list, to go right after the popularity of handbag dogs and animated emoticons.

Perhaps she'll take comfort in knowing that at least one reader not only reads it right to the very end, but really reads it and notices these things. Or maybe she'll just hope that Salon hires a copy editor, like, yesterday.

Anyway. In English we have three very similar words which can ensnare the less than absolutely careful writer--I'm sorry, but this means you, Heather! "Eminent" means "outstanding" or "noteworthy". "Imminent", which is the word you were fishing around for, means "impending" or "immediately about to occur". And, for bonus points, "immanent" means either "within" or "subjectively; in the mind only". They're all Latin, of course, the first two emerging from "minere", "to jut out", and the third from "manere", "to remain". ("Eminent" and "imminent" are different because of their prefixes: "e-", modified from "ex-", means "out of", and "im-", modified from "in-", means "into"; this second one is also the prefix that modifies "immanent".)

Getting these mixed up doesn't make one a bad or incompetent writer, but it does illustrate something I've been saying for a long time: you can't edit your own writing. I'm not one of those doomsayers who thinks the English language is falling apart--it's survived worse than anything we can throw at it nowadays--but the wholesale dissolution of the brotherhood (and sisterhood) of copy editors isn't improving the language, either.


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