John McIntyre, whom James Wolcott calls "the Dave Brubeck of the art and craft of copy editing," writes on language, editing, journalism, and other manifestations of human frailty. Comments welcome. Identifying his errors relieves him of the burden of omniscience. Write to, befriend at Facebook, or follow at Twitter: @johnemcintyre. Back 2009-2012 at the original site, and now at

Friday, September 25, 2009

Today's word: egregious

Egregious (adj.) From the Latin egregius (surpassing, illustrious). Formerly excellent, outstanding, or distinguished. Now used almost exclusively to mean excessive, flagrant, or repellent.

It is always helpful to illustrate the use of a word. Yesterday, several sources (my spies are everywhere) brought to my attention the most egregious allusion to the September 11 attacks that I have ever seen in print.

An article by Karl Raymond, the sports editor of the Sun Prairie Star of Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, was published with these opening paragraphs:

The nightmare of 9/11 will live forever in our minds and memories.

Fast forward eight years later and last Friday, Sept. 11 is a night the Sun Prairie High School football team, coaching staff and Cardinal fans hope can soon be forgotten. Dealt a 22-0 halftime deficit by Madison Memorial in a Big Eight Conference football game at Ashley Field, the Cardinals made an inspiring comeback in the second half but never fully recovered, falling to the Spartans, 22-14.

Please note the elements: the platitudinous opening sentence, the fast forward to cliche, the two clotted sentences that delay to the very end the magnitude (22-14) of this colossal defeat, and the utter, grotesque disproportion of the two events.

Bonus word of the day:

Execrable (adj.) From the French exécrable, ultimately from the Latin verb execrari (to curse). Of wretched quality, bad beyond description,

That someone would attempt such a comparison is monstrous enough, but presumably someone else displayed the execrable judgment to allow it to be published.


  1. Egregious is a favorite of mine -- there is nothing else like it to emphasize the magnitude of an error -- not just any error, but an egregious one. On the other hand, it may be the circles I run in, but I have to say I've never heard anyone use the word "execrable" in speech.

  2. I love egregious. It always reminds me of the time one of the new writers/researchers consulting for the firm I worked for wrote a word that three people could not identify. They handed his file to me and I thought about it and then sounded it out (mainly) phonetically and using context and realized he meant egregious. I wish I could recall the exact spelling to share here, but I know that he had just about every letter in it wrong and some extra letters in it too, maybe something like aggreijous. We all had a good laugh (proud that he used the word though).

  3. I also like sough, an intransitive verb, that means to make a moaning or sighing sound. Soughing is also appropriate. Dean Koontz loves to use them.

  4. Can we have "bathos" as an extra bonus?

  5. Reminds me of one of the chapters in Bel Kaufman's Up the Down Staircase consisting of unattributed students' work: "Man is a gregarious animal" was something they'd been taught, and one student took this in and wrote "Man is a gregious animal" - hence making an egregious error.