Monday, April 9, 2012

H is for Hobgoblins

I know you've heard of hobgoblins. But have you heard about some of the hobgoblins in English usage? Well, they're out there. And people use them all the time. Some English scholars turn their noses up when they read them, pointing them out as incorrect usage. But what those scholarly folks may not realize is -- English usage has changed.

I'm going to use the book, Style: Ten lessons in Clarity and Grace by Joseph M. Williams, as my guide.

Here are a few English usage hobgoblins:

 Never use "like" for "as" or "as if." 
Like evolved into a subordinating conjunction in the eighteenth century when some writers began to drop as from the phrase "like as," leaving just "like" to serve as the conjunction. This dropping of an element is called "elision" and is a common linguistic change.

Use "hopefully" only when the subject of the sentence in fact feels hopeful. 
This rule is so entrenched in the thinking of some that it is impossible to convince them by mere reason and evidence that it has no basis in logic or grammar.
It's wrong to use it in the following case. Hopefully, the matter will be resolved soon.
But when you use it in cases where you mean "I am hopeful" it's perfectly all right such as in this case. Hopefully, it will not rain.

Never use finalize to mean "finish" or  "complete."
Here's the deal, to finalize means to clean up every last detail, which is different from finish. You can finish without getting everything done.

These are just a few. Do you have know of some other English usage hobgoblins?



  1. As someone who studied linguistics in college, I have to disagree that "like" is *improper* in common usage in place of "as if" or "as." In a formal paper, of course you'd avoid "like," but in speech or a typical character's voice, it's far more natural. (And of course, all that depends on the use of "as if" or "as." You would say "He looks like he'll cry" but not "Like he ran, he tripped.")

    But the title of the post made me think of that Emerson quotation, "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds."

    (Oh, and on both those notes: I was taught in high school that "quote" is the verb and "quotation" is the noun, and I still try to use them that way, even though no one else does. Foolish consistency for the win!)

    1. Jordan,
      That's super. I love finding exceptions to the rules. Thanks for keeping me on my toes.

  2. Great post. I'll haveo be more careful of hobgoblins in my writing!!

    1. Buffy,
      I'm always trying to keep the hobgoblins away. Thanks for stopping by.



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