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