Jewish World Review Dec. 18, 2003 / 23 Kislev, 5764

Richard Lederer

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Plane Talk | Two wrongs don't make a right, but two Wrights did make an air-plane — a century ago, on December 17, 1903, when Wilbur and Orville Wright successfully flew their craft for 12 seconds and 120 feet at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. To learn how flighty and fly-by-the-seat-of-the- pants is our English language, take a flight of linguistic fancy with me.

I don't know about you, but that word terminal always scares me when it's in an airport. I arrive at the (gasp!) terminal and ask the airline official behind the counter if I am on a non-stop flight. Fortunately, she says that I am not. That's good because I want the flight to stop somewhere. The trouble with non-stop flights is that you never get down.

The voice on the public address system announces that it's time to pre-board. Preboard strikes me as some- thing that people do before they board, but I notice that those who are preboarding are actually boarding. Then it's time for the rest of us to get on the plane. I don't know about you, but I don't get on a plane; I get in a plane.

As I am about to get in the plane, one of the flight attendants cautions me, "Watch your head." I rotate my cranium in every direction, but I am still unable to watch my head. Trying to watch your head is like trying to bite your teeth.

A little later, the flight attendant assures us that "the aircraft will be in the air momentarily." I know she's thinking that momentarily means "in a moment," but I am among the vanishing band of Americans who believe that momentarily means "for a moment." The thought of the plane soaring upward "momentarily" does not soothe my soul.

On the flight, I pray that we won't have a near miss. Near miss, an expression that has grown up since World War II, logically means a collision. If a mass of met-al hurtling through the skies nearly misses another object, I figure it hits it. Near hit is the more accurate term, and I hope to avoid one of those, too.

Then comes the most chilling moment of all. The dulcet voice on the airplane intercom announces that we should fasten our seat belts and se-cure our carry-on bags because we are beginning our "final descent." Final descent! Hoo boy, does that sound ominous.

Nonetheless, the aircraft touches down with all of us alive and begins to taxi on the runway. If planes taxi on runways, I wonder, do taxis plane on streets? Now the same voice asks us to keep our seat belts fastened un-til the aircraft "comes to a complete stop." That reassures me, as I wouldn't want the vehicle to come to "a partial stop," which, of course, would be an oxymoron.

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JWR contributor Richard Lederer is a language maven. More than a million of his books, which have been Book-of-the-Month Club and Literary Guild alternate selections, are in print. His latest, just out, is "A Man Of My Words". (Click HERE to purchase. Sales help fund JWR.) The host of "A Way With Words," on KPBS, San Diego Public Radio, he is a regular guest on weekend "All Things Considered" and was awarded the Golden Gavel for 2002 by Toastmasters International. Comment by clicking here.


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© 2003, Richard Lederer