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.

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.