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May 19th, 2004

Bob or I? / rhymes with orange / free gift

by Barbara Wallraff

Connie Dean, of Albany, N.Y., writes: “My manager recently wrote on the dry-erase board, ‘If you have any questions, contact Bob or I for clarification.’ I let it stay on the board for days until I finally couldn’t stand it anymore and changed it to ‘Bob or me.’ Some of the women in my department didn’t understand the difference, and a couple of them thought I was wrong. Was I?”

Goodness, no. Would anyone ever write “contact I for clarification”? Let’s hope not. Why do people think the grammar of the sentence changes when you add “Bob”? You’d write “contact me,” so “contact Bob or me” is right.

I get a lot of mail about the wrong use of pronouns. Interestingly, almost all the complaints are about misuses of “I” and “he” and “she”—not “me” and “him” and “her.” Once upon a time, I suppose, we all needed to be taught not to write “Me or him can answer your questions.” But maybe some of us have learned that lesson too well. That would explain why “I” and “he” turn up where “me” and “him” belong more often than the other way around.

Dan Warner, of Fraser, Mich., writes, “Can you supply me with a word that rhymes with ‘orange’?”

To answer your question, I got in touch with Hilary B. Price. As the cartoonist who draws the strip “Rhymes With Orange,” she may be the world’s expert on this subject. Price told me, “Marilyn vos Savant, who writes ‘Ask Marilyn’ for Parade magazine, claims there is a word ‘sporange.’ But the word is not in my dictionary.”

“Sporange” isn’t in most dictionaries. It does appear in Webster’s Third Unabridged and in the enormous Oxford English Dictionary, both of which say it’s a variant of “sporangium,” a botanical term. Webster’s Third gives two pronunciations for “sporange”: the one you’d expect and “spuh-randj,” with the accent on the second syllable. “Spuh-randj” is the only pronunciation given in Oxford. So although “sporange” looks as if it rhymes with “orange,” whether it really does is debatable.

There is a hill in Wales called the Blorenge—but that’s a proper name, not an ordinary word. Hilary Price told me she didn’t know of any single rhyming word, either. “As far as I’m concerned,” she said, “the closest rhyme is ‘door hinge.’”

Roger and Suzanne AuClair, of Rockwood, Maine, write: “What is your opinion of the phrase ‘free gift’? Isn't it redundant? We get a chuckle every time we see or hear it—which is often! Your comment, please.”

People who write ad copy seem to love this phrase. I guess their theory is it’s impossible to say “free” too many times, in too many ways. Anyone who likes expressions such as “free gift”—and “cash money” and “twelve noon” and “exact same” and “consensus of opinion” and “advance warning”—can defend them by saying that they are examples of the figure of speech known as pleonasm. But nowadays pleonasm is more often thought of as a mistake than as an intentional rhetorical device. I’m with you: I think “free gift” is silly.

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

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