<< back to the archive list

December 14th, 2005

Timeouts or times out? / vice versa / my bad, part 3

by Barbara Wallraff

Jack Kettle, of Madison, Wis., writes: “At a recent NFL game, the referee announced that a team had two ‘timeouts’ remaining. My wife said that he should have said two ‘times out’ remained. Is she right, as usual?”

Dear Jack: If your wife were objecting to the phrase “hole in ones” in golf, I’d agree with her. “Holes in one” is better English. If she were objecting to “run batted ins” in baseball, I’d agree with her there too. Although the standard abbreviation is “RBIs,” when you say the whole words, they should be “runs batted in.” But “timeouts” is correct.

Why the difference? Well, “she made the hole,” “he got a run” -- but “the team took a time”? Nah. (“Took some time,” yes, but that’s grammatically different: When you use the word “some” with “time,” you can’t also use “a” or “two.”) “Time” in “timeout” isn’t quite like “hole” in “hole in one” or “run” in “run batted in.” In some ways it’s more like “hold” in “holdout” (“holdouts”) or “read” in “readout” (“readouts”). English doesn’t always give the same treatment to similar expressions -- but that’s as close as I can come to giving you a logical explanation for why “timeouts” is good-quality standard English.

Terry Hofman, of Seattle, writes: “Is ‘vice versa’ pronounced the way it reads, or is ‘vysa’ preferred?”

Dear Terry: “Vysa” is the better pronunciation, because it shows you’re familiar with the history of the phrase. “Vice versa” comes to us straight from Latin, and a Latin speaker would pronounce the “e” at the end of “vice.” This kind of “vice” is a form of the noun “vicis,” meaning “position” or “place.” Literally, “vice versa” means something like “with positions reversed.”

“Vice” meaning a bad or evil habit originated in a different Latin word: “vitium,” which refers to a fault or defect. Although some of us might suspect that “vice” in a term like “vice president” comes from the evil-related meaning, it actually comes from the same “vice” as in “vice versa,” because a vice president sometimes acts in a president’s place.

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

<< back to the archive list