Unlike combat, the verb-noun ‘combine‘ has come under no pressure to extinguish the stress difference between its noun and verb forms. Mispronunciations are rare (and perhaps nonexistent).

The verb has the stress on the second syllable:

Com-bine’. (v)

Platform 22, Floyd County Public Arts’ first project, combines history, education, and fine art in a series of 11 art installations located in nine public parks and two public buildings. – News and Tribune

Then there is the elegant noun, with stress on the first syllable, describing a common piece of farm equipment:

Com’bine. (n)

Scott Short of Sycamore drives past corn and soybean fields every day, but until Saturday, he had never been inside a tractor or a combine.

It’s true.

On Oct. 21, Short and about 80 others took combine rides coordinated by the DeKalb County Farm Bureau. Three local farmers, Vince Faivre of DeKalb, Steve Bemis of DeKalb and Rob Wessels of Waterman, allowed passengers to ride along in their combine cab to get a firsthand look at corn harvesting. – Daily Chronicle

Then there is another use of the noun, to denote a group ‘acting together for a commercial purpose’, again with the stress on the first syllable:

Obi Melifonwu left no doubts about his athleticism on the final day of the NFL Scouting Combine. The former UConn safety broad-jumped 11 feet, 9 inches and recorded a 44-inch vertical jump on Monday, marks that were the best of the combine. –

Verb position

I think the entire country assumed that Mugabe was going to get on state television and announce that he was resigning as president. Instead, he gave a meandering speech that led to no resignation at all. So as far as anyone understands, he is still the president. He’s the president with diminishing support by the day. But until he resigns or until he’s forced out of power or until the country finds a legal path to dismissing him, he remains the president of Zimbabwe. – NPR

Let’s take a look at the highlighted sentence, in which ‘diminishing‘ appears to be an adjective.

He’s the president with diminishing support by the day.

Well, it’s not meant to be an adjective. Here are the same words, different order.

He’s the president with support diminishing by the day.

Without a doubt, ‘diminishing‘ is a verb, an action word. The dude’s support is shrinking, a little (or a lot) each day. Soon it will be gone. That makes sense. He has been in power since the beginning of (Zimbabwe) time. The following, however, does not make sense.

He’s the president with diminishing support by the day.

That’s why it is in red.

When a sentence contains two verbs, the second verb should not be a shrinking violet, a wallflower. It should be leaning forward, spring-loaded, ready to pop.

He’s the president with support diminishing by the day.

I mean, in a dependent clause the verb should follow, not lead, its subject whenever possible. Now that you know this, you have to cringe a little (e.g., at the 1:20 mark here) whenever you hear a verb unwittingly adjectivized.


The verb ‘overlook‘ has nothing to do with the noun ‘overlook‘.

Over-look’. (v) Fail to notice.

Even though we were the first customers at 6:30 on a Saturday night, we were basically overlooked or forgotten. – Wisconsin State Journal

Anonymity can be sad, so sad. Meanwhile, the accepted definition for the noun may seem grandiose.

Over’look. (n) A commanding position or view.

Tennessee Tourism officials have installed viewfinders at three scenic spots, including one here in the Tri-Cities region, to help colorblind people see the fall foliage for the first time. The viewfinders were debuted on Wednesday, including one at the westbound Interstate 26 overlook near Erwin. – WJHL

Of course the two forms can be artfully combined.

Overlook at Mile High is overlooked no more. For one thing, the 476-unit Overlook at Mile High is the largest apartment community in the area west of downtown Denver. – Colorado Real Estate Journal

Maybe this is what we should expect from a real estate journal.


We have myriad possibilities.

The painting’s installation elements — including a plastic vacuum tube filled with “alphabet dice” — hint at myriad possibilities. – Seattle Times

We have a myriad of possibilities.

Thanksgiving is almost here, and with it comes huge platters of delicious food, pies as far as the eye can see, candy dishes full to the brim, and a myriad of choking hazards that no one ever told you about. – Romper

Which one is it?

‘Myriad of’ is older than myriad with the noun,” [Prof.] Curzan explains. “Myriad comes into English in the 16th century when the word originally means 10,000, a specific number.” The word changed from referring to 10,000 of something, to meaning a countless number of something.

While ‘myriad possibilities’ is taut, succinct … ‘a myriad of possibilities’ is the original form. Either one is fine. Listen to this interesting discussion with Professor Anne Curzan at Michigan Public Radio.

Bona fides

Bona fides‘ is almost always used to refer to one’s CREDENTIALS in a grand way. The reference is not just to documents (although it can be, in the legal realm), it is to the training, experience and body of work that together establish authenticity and legitimacy.

Michael Lewis is a serious writer with a list of serious bona fides: Princeton bachelor’s degree, master’s from the London School of Economics, a brief career on Wall Street and author of best-selling, non-fiction books like “Money Ball,” “The Big Short,” and “The Blind Side.” – Globe Gazette

It need not refer to a member of the establishment. Punk journalists can establish their bona fides. The key point is legitimacy.

My Damage was co-written with National Endowment for the Arts fellow and award-winning writer Jim Ruland, who brought with him his own punk bona fides from his work with fanzine Razorcake, and as a staff writer for its predecessor, the now defunct LA punk zine Flipside. – Claremont Courier

Pronunciation is the tricky part. How should an English speaker pronounce this?

bōna fidēs

We shouldn’t get too prissy here, as language is fluid. But some aspects of the original should be preserved. Here is some good advice: remember to pronounce the ‘e’, and you will be fine. The following is the most accepted modern-day Latin pronunciation:

boh-na fee-days

A version with the Americanized short ‘o’ sound comes in a close second:

bah-na fee-days

Sometimes the computer voice on a dictionary website will say it this way (although I have never heard it spoken this way on the radio):

boh-na f-eye-dees

Here is a common mispronunciation, which lacks all nuance:

bah-na f-eye-ds

The latter just seems uninformed. Not willfully ignorant, just uninformed. So here you go: try it one more time.

In January of 2016, presidential candidate Donald Trump took a trip to the late Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University to burnish his evangelical Christian bona fides.Journal Sentinel

Umm …

Defuse / diffuse

This is just wrong.

Renault were said to be furious with that retort and Red Bull motorsports consultant Dr Helmut Marko stepped in to try to diffuse the situation. – beIN Sports

Dif-fuse’. (v) Spread over a wide area.

So is this.

Afterwards, the team notified Gryphons athletic director Kristin Maile, who would likely be the one to diffuse any backlash from the greater community. – The Phoenix

The following is right.

Anyone who’s ever had to defuse a tense work meeting or even a stressful Thanksgiving dinner knows that sometimes thoughtful de-escalation is the best (and often only) way to get what you want. – Lifehacker

De-fuse’. (v) Remove fuse (reduce danger).

This is also right.

Studies have shown that carbon monoxide gas can diffuse through eggshells. – Environmental Research Web

This is a royal mess.

‘They don’t want to talk about his record. They don’t want to talk about his inexperience. They want to diffuse this just like they diffuse President Trump’s agenda about bringing up the Russian deal.’ – Real Clear Politics

We’re not commenting on the politics, only on the use of ‘diffuse’.

  • They want to diffuse this just like they diffuse President Trump’s agenda about bringing up the Russian deal.
  • They want to spread this around just like they publicize President Trump’s agenda about bringing up the Russian deal.
  • They want to disseminate this just like they broadcast President Trump’s agenda about bringing up the Russian deal.

I am not sure what he is trying to say. ‘Diffuse‘ seems to be the least effective way to describe the need to get the word out. We have many alternatives: ‘broadcast’, ‘circulate’, ‘disperse’, ‘disseminate’, ‘publicize’, ‘spread this around’.

Sorry for all the red ink, it is what it is. What is the real point here? Just that ‘diffuse‘ is tricky, as a verb. Its meaning is nice and clear when used to describe the movement of food coloring through water, or gases through a membrane. Everything gets murky when ‘diffuse‘, the verb, enters the social realm, or politics.

Splitting the infinitive

In prehistoric times it was a major no-no to cheekily separate the particle ‘to’ from its infinitive verb. ‘Do not split the infinitive’ was the law of the land. ‘What in the world are you talking about?’ responded anyone born after 1960. In fact, since that time the rule has more or less been ignored.

And then came its death knell, on September 8, 1966:

Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before. – Star Trek

There is no longer any controversy, and for good or ill, the lowly adverb has flourished (despite ending in ‘-ly’, ‘lowly’ in this sentence is an adjective, and ‘adverb’ is a noun. Had to get that out there). Perhaps an adverb’s highest honor is to breezily insert itself into an otherwise mundane sentence.

An adverb’s highest honor is to breezily insert itself into an otherwise mundane sentence.

An adverb’s highest honor is to insert itself, breezily, into an otherwise mundane sentence.

What if we could do without adverbs altogether? The world would be a better place.

Inserted into an otherwise mundane sentence, the adverb felt mighty proud.

The adverb brightened the terminus of the otherwise mundane sentence.

It worked behind the scenes to buttress the verb’s presentation and eliminate the need for itself. This is an adverb’s highest honor.

Sentence stuffing

Why do some journalists feel compelled to stuff their entire thesis into a single sentence?

The time to advocate against zoning laws in Houston that left the city more prone to flooding during Hurricane Harvey is now. – The Guardian

I don’t know about you, but by the time I reached the end of the sentence, I had forgotten what the subject of ‘is’ was (it was ‘The time’. The time is now). Why can’t the authors be a little bit nicer to me and my fading short-term memory? After all, they do want me to understand their thesis.

Is this what they were trying to say?

Zoning laws in Houston left the city more prone to flooding during Hurricane Harvey. It is time to advocate against them.

Isn’t that better? Freed of the onerous single-sentence requirement, the authors might even have penned this:

It’s time we advocate against the existing meager zoning laws in Houston. They left the city open to intense flooding from Hurricane Harvey.

Or this:

Lax zoning laws in Houston left the city open to intense flooding from Hurricane Harvey. Down with those laws. They gotta go.

OK, maybe not that one, not for an impartial journalist. But wait, the original quote comes from an opinion piece. Coming down on one side of an issue: that is expected. And very often, the shortest sentence is the most effective.

Proved / proven

Not all behavior descends to Nixon’s level, particularly when so little of it is proved. – NYT (comments)

Proved‘ or ‘proven‘? Which one? Does it matter?

I think the NGRAM shows that ‘proved wrong’ is proven right. Who knew? But ‘proven’, after a slow start, is catching up to ‘proved’.

Keylor Navas has proved he deserves to be Real Madrid’s first-choice goalkeeper. – FourFourTwo

They narrowed down their findings to 33 foods proven to ease rheumatoid arthritis symptoms and slow down the progression of the disease. – Medical News Today

In science reporting, both forms figure equally. ‘Have proved’ is commonplace and efficient:

It was Charles Darwin who originally suggested that birds use their wings not only to fly but to communicate as well. Now, approximately 150 years later, scientists have proved him right, and in the process explained why pigeons make such a racket taking off. – Telegraph

In certain constructs, ‘is proven’ seems more refined:

Woodward is convinced it is proven, replicated and will scale to fast interstellar travel. – Next Big Future

He is talking about mach effect propulsion.

Proved or proven? It really doesn’t matter. Write it, then read it aloud and go with whichever is pleasing to the ear. This radio announcer has chosen ‘proven’:

Goodall discusses what it’s like to be proven correct all these years later, as well as why she thinks the argument that trophy hunting is a valuable way to fund conservation is ‘rubbish’. – Mongabay

The Jane Goodall interview starts at the 6:45 mark, with ‘proven‘ referenced at 7:28:

Stanch / staunch

You may have thought that stanch meant to stop the flow (usually of blood), and that staunch is what described an ardent supporter (often of a political cause). And you would be right, on paper.

To stanch the rhetorical bleeding:

The federal Liberal government says it will lower the small business tax rate to 10 per cent in January and to nine per cent in 2019, the start of a week-long effort to stanch the bleeding from a self-inflicted political wound. – The Canadian Press

To stanch a meltdown:

Dudley was a principal player in Fed decisions concerning the demise of Lehman Brothers, AIG and Bear Stearns, along with emergency measures taken by the central bank to stanch a meltdown in the financial system. – CNBC

A staunch feminist disappointing her friends:

Friends who described Hofmeister as a staunch feminist, generous friend and promoter of young professional women, say they are disappointed that she has become the public “apologist” for Weinstein. – PageSix

There are clear differences in meaning. We run into a problem when it comes to pronunciation. It may not be self-evident, but stanch and staunch are the same word. We need to hit the dictionaries for this one. We found the following on this excellent page in Collins English Dictionary:

Stanch in American English
(stɑntʃ; stänch; stæntʃ; stanch; stɔntʃ; stônch)

Stanch in British English
(stɑːntʃ) or staunch (stɔːntʃ)

As you can see by the intimidating vocal spellings, eight (8) different pronunciations of stanch are offered; five of these are accompanied by brief audible recordings. Some of them sound like staunch.

(stȯnch; stänch)

Make that nine (9) possible pronunciations.

. . .

Stanch made it as the word of the day in Merriam-Webster on 10/07/2009. Here is the podcast (did podcasts exist in 2009?):