Tag Archives: thusly

Thusly, prior to and commence: a posey of pomposity


I think we all know at least one person who speaks as though they’re addressing a courtroom or their own nation  — even when they’re in the line for the bathroom or firing off a hasty text. Three tell-tale signs of linguistic pomposity are the words thus (or, even worse, thusly), commence, and prior to — all of which have perfectly sound and simple synonyms without all the airs and graces. Let’s see what some of today’s — and yesterday’s — linguists have to say about them.

Thus (or thus far): Thus, so the OED says succinctly, is “now chiefly literary or formal”. Thus, unless you’re Shakespeare or Chief Whip, use so. “Some people think ‘thus far’ is too snobby or stuffy, but in terms of meaning, it’s the same as ‘so far’.” So says the YUNiversity of Grammar.

Thusly: A couple of years ago, the New York Times‘s After Deadline blog explained why thusly just isn’t a viable word. ““Thus,” meaning “in this way” or “therefore,” is an adverb. “-Ly” is a suffix that turns an adjective into an adverb. Since “thus” is already an adverb, it has no need for “-ly.” So “thusly” is unnecessary — colloquial at best, illiterate in the view of many readers.”

As Mark Davidson says in his book Right, Wrong and Risky: “Thusly gets almost no respect … You need supreme self-confidence to use this much-maligned variant of the adverb thus. Thusly, which word sleuths suspect was coined in the mid-19th century as a humorous American variant of thus, has been taken seriously by almost nobody in America’s usage establishment. Descriptions of thusly have ranged from “superfluous” (Theodore M. Bernstein’s Careful Writer) to “an abomination” (William and Mary Morris’ Harper Dictionary of Contemporary Usage).”

Prior to: “You are committing an offense against English if you use the phrase prior to as a substitute for the preposition before, according to the “Language Corner” of the Columbia Journalism Review,” reports Davidson. “What in heaven’s name is wrong with before?” Enough said on that subject …

Commence: As Barrie England commented (I thought rather wittily) on StackExchange about the use of commence instead of begin, “My entirely intuitive thought is that begin is less formal than commence. Dylan Thomas began his play for voices, ‘Under Milk Wood’, with the words ‘To begin at the beginning.’ He didn’t, with good reason, write ‘To commence at the commencement.’”

Commence, which at one time was described by the OED as “precisely equivalent to the native begin“, has been variously described as a “formal”, “fancy” or “stilted” alternative; Merriam-Webster acknowledges that it is often considered “pretentious”, “old-fashioned”, “inappropriate”, “bookish”, or “pedantic”. As Longman pointed out, even back in 1874 George Eliot used the word ironically in Middlemarch: “Things never began with Mr. Borthrop Trumbull; they always commenced, both in private and on his handbills.”

Fowler did concede that certain circumstances prescribe the use of the more formal alternative: “In official announcements commence is appropriate: the play-bill tells us when the performance will commence, though we ask each other when it begins. The grave historical style also justifies commence, & historians’ phrases, such as commence hostilities, keep their form when transferred to other uses, though we begin, & do not commence, a quarrel; similarly we commence operations, but merely begin dinner.”


About these “formal words” generally, Fowler in his Modern English Usage offered his own typically quirky explanation. “There are large numbers of words differing from each other in almost all respects, but having this point in common, that they are not the plain English for what is meant, not the form that the mind uses in its private debates to convey to itself what it is talking about, but translations of these into language that is held more suitable for public exhibition. We tell our thoughts, like our children, to put on their hats & coats before they go out; we want the window shut, but we ask if our fellow passenger would mind its being closed; we think of our soldiers as plucky fellows, but call them in the bulletins valiant troops. These outdoor costumes are often needed; not only may decency be outraged sometimes by over-plain speech; dignity may be compromised if the person who thinks in slang writes also in slang; to the airman it comes natural to think & talk of his bus, but he does well to call it in print by another name.”

“Thus far, with rough and all-unable pen,
Our bending author hath pursu’d the story,
In little room confining mighty men,
Mangling by starts the full course of their glory.”

— William Shakespeare, Henry V

Pet Peeve Poll: Have your say



There are three types of Glossophilia post that always seem to attract particular interest and attention.

The first is the topic of slang and colloquialisms — the more obscure, quaint, and rude the better. We all want to know where, when and why these strange little words and expressions found their way into the colorful world of our informal banter.

Next is the Great Trans-Atlantic Divide. It’s not the wide ocean that really separates us, nor the fact that we can’t agree on a common system of measurement, DVD-watching or which side of the road to drive on. No, what distinguishes the American from his British counterpart is what comes out of his mouth — and I’m not talking about accents. We speak differently, therefore we think differently. Discuss.

Finally, who doesn’t have a long laundry list of pet peeves when it comes to written and spoken English? No matter how linguistically lofty or proudly proletarian we are when it comes to our choice of words, we all love to prod and pick at those who, like, talk different than us or get on their haughty high horses; the language we all share is an endless and fascinating source of entertainment and amusement, especially when we’re identifying that which bugs and annoys us in other people’s prose.

My father and a couple of his friends (all notably British) have started a list of their favorite pet peeves; here are some of them below, with a few of my own thrown in. (Those marked with an asterisk are heard more in British than American English.)  Which of these, if any, annoys YOU most? Please add your thoughts and your own pet peeves in the comments section below.


“Overkill” expressions, which feel the need to introduce superfluous words unnecessarily for extra effect:

  • “Track record” – when “record” will do
  • “For free” – when “free” will do
  • “Kick start” – when “start” will do
  •  “Head off to” – instead of “go to”
  • “Each and every” – when “every” will do
  •  “At this moment in time” – when “now” will do


The pompous word choice:

  • “Boasts” –  a favorite expression of realtors: “The kitchen boasts a quarry tiled floor”
  • “Commences” – instead of “starts” or “begins”
  • “Concludes” – instead of “ends” or “finishes”
  •  “Deduce” –  instead of “understand” or “gather”
  • “Thus” – in informal speech or e-mails


The wrong word choice:

  • “Literally” used when “figuratively” is meant
  • “Coruscating” used to mean harshly critical (confusing it with excoriating), when it really means glittering
  • “Prevaricate” used as a synonym for “procrastinate”, when it really has the sense of deviating or diverting by deceit, not necessarily by delaying anything
  • “Alternate” instead of “alternative” – as in “Please suggest an alternate route to the airport”
  • “Presume” instead of “assume” – as in “I presume you’re taking an umbrella?”


Ugly misuse/abuse:

  • “You and I” used when you and I are the objects of the sentence: “He gave it to you and I”
  •  “Both” applied to two people about each other – as in “they both hated the other”  instead of “each hated the other” or “they hated each other”
  •  “Like” instead of “as if” or “as though” – as in “He felt like he was drowning”
  • “However” instead of “but” used halfway through a sentence – as in “She didn’t like him, however she went out with him anyway”
  • The difference between “which” and “that”, which isn’t that hard to understand!
  • “Whomever” used as a subject instead of “whoever” – as in “Whomever likes this apple can have it”
  • “In regards to” instead of “with regard to”, “in regard to”, or “as regards”. And why not use “about”, “concerning”, or “regarding”?
  • “Could of”/”should of” instead of “could have”/”should have” – as in “I could of easily beaten him in that match”
  • “I could care less” instead of “I couldN’T care less”
  • “Only” before the wrong word – as in “I can only talk to you for a minute” (ie. I can’t sing or dance to you)
  • “Sung” instead of “sang” in simple past – as in “I sung the hymn this morning”
  • “All of” when “all” will do – as in “I ate all of the cookies in the jar”
  • “To transition” (ie. “transition” used as a verb) – as in “We will transition over to a new platform”


Marketing/corporate BS:

  • As well as some of the pompous words above, prolific use of any of the following, often in combination: “synergy”, “leverage”, “first ever”, “going forward”, “transition” (used as a verb), “out-of-the-box thinking”, “content streamlining”, “strategize”, “bandwidth”, “result-driven”, “paradigm”, “multi-platform”, “functionality”, “empower[ment]”, “top-down”, “e-tailers”, “online assets”, etc.


Meaningless sentence- and gap-fillers (most of these are British-isms):

  • “Like” used for no apparent reason mid-sentence (or at the end of a sentence by Brits) – as in “She, like, went ballistic”, or * “Have you been to the shops, like?”
  • * “Basically” – as in “Basically I told him to go”
  • *  “I mean” / “You know” used for no apparent reason mid-sentence.  Peter Snow of Channel Four says it in every sentence.
  • *  “To be honest” or “to be honest with you” starting every sentence
  • * “If you like” ending every sentence
  • * “Do you know what I mean?”  used to fill gaps between sentences

Just …. ugh:

  • “First ever” (so awful it gets two entries in this post)
  • “Was like” meaning “I said” –  as in “I was like ‘You do!'”
  • “Thusly”
  •  “With respect, …” or “With all due respect, …”  before launching an attack on someone you think is an idiot

Update, during Superbowl lights-out:

  • “Change it up”
  • “Space” meaning an abstract area of thought, discussion or virtual territory – as in “You’re invading my personal space”