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August 4th, 2004

Be rest assured? / skosh / kids and moms vs. children and mothers

by Barbara Wallraff

Mary Venditti, of Kingston, Ontario, writes: “I work for a large company, and we respond to e-mails. We are having a discussion at work and have received mixed answers to our question. The question is: Is it proper to say ‘Please be rest assured ...’? I think you can say either ‘Be assured’ or ‘Rest assured.’ However, I do not think ‘be’ and ‘rest’ can be combined. Then we have the added question: Is it correct English to add ‘please’ ahead of the phrase? I look forward to your reply, to share with my co-workers.”

Dear Mary: How refreshing to learn that you and your company pay such careful attention to the use of correct English. My compliments! And you’re right: “Be” is a verb, “rest” is a different verb, and two of them can’t be piled up like that. Internet searches make clear that in Canada as well as in the United States, “rest assured” is pretty much standard in sentences like the one you’re writing. As for “please,” this is a word that’s hardly ever incorrect to add to anything!

Kay Bamrick, of Canton, Mich., writes: “I used the word ‘skosh,’ meaning ‘just a little bit,’ and was asked what language it was. Can you tell me?”

Dear Kay: Why, “skosh” is English. It has been part of our language for half a century. If it doesn’t sound like a typical English word, that’s because it comes to us from Japanese. The exact Japanese word with this meaning is “sukoshi” -- as opposed to “takusan,” which means “a lot.”

Frank J. Murray, of Troy, N.Y., writes: “I am incensed by media use of the word ‘kids’ to the almost total exclusion of the word ‘children.’ When I was young, if I used the word ‘kid,’ I was immediately informed that it was unacceptable slang and that a ‘kid’ was really a young goat. I am also vexed by the media’s overuse of the word ‘mom.’ Apparently, we no longer have mothers. What’s going on here?”

Dear Mr. Murray: I’m not going to greet you by calling you Frank, because I sense that you value traditional formalities. The only thing is, a lot of people don’t. Many men, even ones in professional jobs, no longer wear a suit to work. Few women regularly put on a hat and gloves when they go out. Families count themselves blessed if they can manage a home-cooked sit-down dinner once or twice a week, let alone every night.

It’s quite true that “kid” and “mom” are less formal than “child” and “mother.” (I was waiting for you to also point out that children used to be “reared,” not “raised.”) But nowadays we’re an informal society. The media are sometimes criticized for being high and mighty, out of touch with ordinary people. When announcers and reporters use the words “kids” and “moms,” they’re probably trying to climb down off the pedestal and sound like everybody else. Nonetheless, the media continue to use the words “children” and “mothers” much more often than “kids” and “moms.”

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

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