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September 17th, 2003

RSVP / comma before Inc. / sneaked or snuck / unlike no other

by Barbara Wallraff

Betty Carman, of San Francisco, writes, “When I was learning manners, I learned that ‘RSVP’ on an invitation obligated me to let the sender know whether or not I was going to attend. Now that abbreviation has come to mean ‘Let me know if you are coming,’ and there seems to be no expectation that you will respond if you are not coming. But what really bothers me is that ‘RSVP’ is almost always preceded by ‘please.’ To me, this indicates that the sender has no idea what those letters stand for. Am I being really picky and old-fashioned?”

Heavens, no. This column is about language, not etiquette, so I won’t say a thing about how thoughtless it is not to respond, particularly if the hosts will need to have food and drink on hand for everybody who didn’t let them know. But you’re absolutely right that “Please RSVP” isn’t the best way to phrase the request. “RSVP” is an abbreviation for the French phrase “Repondez s’il vous plait,” or “Respond, please”—so “Please RSVP” means “Please respond please.” Unfortunately, plain “RSVP” may strike some people as curt. Maybe we should try “Please, pretty please, respond!”

M. Gail Geyer, of Hershey, Pa., writes, “My boss and I have a difference of opinion about the use of a comma. He says, ‘Company Name, Inc., intends to buy a fence from Such and Such a Place.’ I say, ‘Company Name, Inc. intends to buy a fence….’ Should a comma appear after ‘Inc.’?”

If there’s a comma before “Inc.,” you should put one after it too. But why do you need that first comma—or “Inc.”? The Gregg Reference Manual, which discusses business letters in detail, says, “The trend is not to set off elements like … Inc.” with commas. And “in ordinary correspondence, for the sake of brevity and simplicity,” it suggests dropping “Inc.” from company names.

Allan Schwegmann, of Santa Monica, Calif., writes, “A co-worker and I have been in a week-long dispute over the past tense of the word ‘sneak.’ I was brought up that ‘snuck’ is not a word and that the correct word is ‘sneaked.’ Is ‘snuck’ a perfectly acceptable word, unbeknownst to me? Or is ‘sneaked’ perhaps a perfectly acceptable word, unbeknownst to him?”

“Sneaked” is perfectly acceptable and has been throughout our lifetimes, and it continues to be the more common word. But according to six major contemporary American dictionaries, “snuck” is becoming or has become acceptable too, especially in informal English.

Elaine M. Tweedy, of Scranton, Pa., writes, “On several occasions lately I’ve heard the expression ‘unlike no other.’ It got me to thinking. I believe the speakers meant that what they were talking about was unique. That would be ‘unlike any other,’ correct? I’m confused.”

I wondered, at first, if maybe you had misheard people saying “like no other.” So I looked for examples of “unlike no other” in print and, to my surprise, found them. “Unlike no other” is a double negative. If that’s what people are saying, you’re not confused—they are.

© Copyright 2003 by Barbara Wallraff. Reprints require prior permission. All rights reserved.

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