May 30th, 2007
Pangs or pains? / writing 1 or one, etc.
by Barbara Wallraff
George Durham, of Seattle, writes: “In a discussion this evening I said, ‘It pangs me ...’ Upon hearing this, my wife insisted that the correct phrase is ‘It pains me.’ We agree the two are synonymous but differ about which is the original or more correct phrase. A few online searches turn up more instances of ‘It pains me,’ but I’m not convinced. Thoughts?”
Dear George: I don’t know of any famous, oft-repeated quotation that includes either “panged me” or “pained me.” I’ve discovered, though, that the British adventure novelist Tobias Smollett would probably side with you. He wrote, “The news of your misfortune panged me to the very intrails,” in a book he published in 1748. But Edmund Spenser, the 16th-century poet, would side with your wife, and so would Bram Stoker, who, in his 1897 horror novel “Dracula,” wrote, “My face is ghastly pale, and my throat pains me.”
Karen Raymond, of Eastport, Mich., writes: “Not until I was 62 years old did I learn that single-digit numbers are supposed to be spelled out -- for example, ‘eight.’ Because I’m retired and have way too much free time on my hands, that has been bothering me. I thought if anyone could tell me why, it would be you. Why do single-digit numbers have to be written as words?”
Dear Karen: Well, for 1 thing ... See how bad that looks? Single-digit numbers often turn up in places where arithmetic or measurement is beside the point. Consider expressions like “Kill two birds with one stone” and “Three’s company, and four’s a crowd.” If you wrote those with numerals, they’d practically jump off the page and shout, “Hey, we’re numbers!”
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