Like a Bug!

“Keller and others accuse the impacters of trying to squash deliberation before alternate ideas can get a fair hearing.”


– The Atlantic, “The Nastiest Fued in Science,” Bianca Bosker, September 2018.


Journalists often misunderstand the word “quash.” It’s a legal term that means to overturn or to suppress, as you would “quash a move to dismiss the charges” or “quash a revolt.” The word “squash” means to compress something by squeezing, such as “I squashed the grape.” You can quash a motion in a court of law. You cannot squash it, as it has no physical body.


Gerta Keller, a scientist, would never put up with squashing other scientists. See her here:


The offending sentence, which was presumably read by the illustrious editors of The Atlantic and perhaps even by its author herself, contains the additional ugly error of using the word “alternate” where the word “alternative” is needed. “Alternate” ideas are ones that switch back and forth. “Alternative” is meant to describe a situation in which more than one choice exists.


As for the word “impacters,” your guess is as good as mine. Norman Mailer once said that letting journalists have access to the printed word was like giving a loaded gun to a three-year-old.

Don’t Make Me Gag

Andrea Wulf wrote a brilliant and moving book called The Invention of Nature about the science of Alexander von Humboldt. I started to read it and could not stop. 


However, she had a few tics that a keen editor should have caught. She could not seem to place the word “only” in its proper place.


And she wrote this sentence, describing the difficult ascent of a high river valley by von Humboldt and his partner, Aimé Bonpland: 


“Bonpland was struggling with thin air–feeling nauseous and feverish.”


The word she’s looking for is “nauseated.” The word “nauseous” describes the substance that is the cause of nausea. Hence: “The filthy toilet was nauseous.” Or: “I was nauseated upon seeing how filthy the toilet was.” Or: “The sight of the dead man’s brains on the sidewalk made me nauseated.” 


The brains were nauseous. The narrator was nauseated. As was Bonpland.


For the use of “only” see the entry on “only.”