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Are you champing – or chomping – at the bit?

Sep 20, 2015

It’s that time of year when University of Michigan English Professor Anne Curzan is asked for her opinion about all kinds of language disputes.

Curzan is one of about 200 panel members of American Heritage Dictionary, which sends out a user ballot every September.

This year one of the questions is: "How many syllables in the word 'miniature?'

Some people use four syllables, but the word is commonly pronounced with three, as in "mini-ture."

 Curzan says using either three or four syllables is acceptable.

Here's another question: If you are impatient or eager to do something, we use a metaphor with a horse, and the horse is doing something with the bit.  

It's known as "champing at the bit," but many people say "chomping at the bit."

Curzan conducted an informal survey of some of her U of M colleagues, and about half said it’s “chomp” and about half said, “Oh, wait. I learned this; it’s “champ.”

"Historically, it is champ. Champing at the bit," Curzan explains. "And champ was a verb that meant to chew vigorously. In other words, it meant 'chomp.' Chomp is actually just a variant of champ, and a lot of people are using chomp at the bit because they don’t know the word champ anymore.

Now read the next sentence: "Experience is equally as valuable as theory."

Does anything jump out at you?

Or how about this: "Aptitude is essential but equally as important is the desire to learn."

"The issue here is whether 'equally as' is redundant," Curzan says. "Technically, it is. But I think at this point, a sentence where we use 'equally as' is very standard, so I’m voting ‘completely acceptable.’”

Some of the other questions on the ballot are old standbys, Curzan says. There are questions about using "impact" as a verb, because people still don’t like that.

"Then there’s a question about a rule that I think many people don’t know at this point, which is whether or not you can use the word “however” at the beginning of a sentence.  This is one that Strunk in his Elements of Style in 1918 said 'Do not use however at the beginning of a sentence when you mean nevertheless.' It’s appeared in style guides throughout the 20th century, but at this point, lots of us use 'however' at the beginning of a sentence.

Curzan's vote? Using "however" at the beginning of a sentence is now totally standard. 

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