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June 13th, 2007

Lovely men / x percent of all ... / lit and lighted

by Barbara Wallraff

Ruth Feiler, of Troy, Mich., writes: “I have heard male hosts refer to male guests as ‘lovely’ when introducing them. Is that an acceptable adjective for a man?”

Dear Ruth: Somewhere in the English-speaking world, nearly any adjective you can think of is acceptable in reference to any category of person. Here’s the soccer player Lorenzo Amoruso talking about his former teammate Stefan Klos: “Stefan is a fantastic guy, a lovely man and a fantastic goalkeeper.” And here’s the heavy-metal musician Ozzy Osbourne discussing wrestling and wrestlers: “I became a very good friend of Andre the Giant when he was alive. I used to go drinking with him, and he was such a lovely man.”

Need I say more?

Louis Desjardins, of Belleville, Ontario, writes: “When discussing polling results, commentators often redundantly inject the word ‘all’ in, for instance, ‘75 percent of all Canadians believe that ...’, or ‘62 percent of all Democrats want ...’ Of course, a poll identifying the preferences of 75 percent of ‘some respondents’ wouldn’t have much in the way of validity.”

Dear Louis: You’re right that “all” after “percent of” is a common wasted word. In fact, it appears in 5 percent of the recent newspaper articles containing “percent of” that I just called up on my computer. No doubt people are tempted to write “all,” because they’re thinking, “75 percent of what?” The “what” might be this year’s graduating class or the population of the U.S. -- or all Canadians. Nonetheless, careful speakers and writers skip the “all,” because they realize it’s implied.

Your example of “75 percent” brings up something else worth keeping in mind. Though phrases like “more than 75 percent” and “less than 50 percent” might not be redundant or wordy, most of them are falsely specific. Because percentages divide something into hundredths, “percent” suggests a fairly precise measurement. If you just mean “more than three out of four” or “less than half,” why not say that?

Dennis Andersen, of Issaquah, Wash., writes: “Is a room ‘well lit’ or ‘well lighted’? When do you use one word versus the other?”

Dear Dennis: You won’t be wrong whichever word you use. Reputable sources agree that “lit” and “lighted” are nearly interchangeable. (The one exception often mentioned is that only “lit” can mean “drunk.”) Although “lit” is noticeably more common than “lighted” in almost every context, you should feel free to use “lighted” anywhere it sounds better to you.

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

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