A Desk-Book of Errors in English/U


ugly, which signifies the reverse of beautiful or want of comeliness (actual or figurative) is colloquially extended in the United States to uncomeliness of character or personal demeanor; as an ugly fellow; an ugly beast; anger makes him ugly. In polite speech this usage is not sanctioned. Say "irritable," "vicious," "quarrelsome," as the disposition inclines or indicates.

un-: For the sake of lucidity the use of a negative prefix with a negative antecedent should be discouraged. Avoid such expressions as "He spoke in no unmistakable terms" which means, of course, "mistakable terms" the direct opposite of the speaker's intention. "Not an unkempt one among them" means that all were well kempt.

unbeknown: A vulgar provincialism used chiefly in the form unbeknownst.

uncommon: Used for uncommonly: a vulgarism meaning "to an unusual degree or extremely." Do not say "Her eyes are uncommon beautiful"; say, rather, "... uncommonly beautiful."

unconscionable: When used for unconscionably is a bad provincialism. Used also by the illiterate instead of uncommonly; as, "She is an unconscionable handsome girl"—this is bad English.

under: Much philological nonsense has been written in disapproval of the expression "under his signature," for which "over his signature"—that "preposterous conceit," as Gould aptly terms it—is suggested as a substitute. But it is clear that the expression is elliptical, and means "under sanction or authority of his signature." "Under oath" is good enough to impress upon an unwilling and prevaricating witness the distinction between perjury and a lie, and that although he does not physically lie under the oath.

understand should not be used as an expletive with interrogatory inflection, as a contraction of "Do you understand?" There is no excuse for this nor for its objectionable iteration. Avoid such absurdities as: "Grammar, understand, is the science that treats of the principles, understand, that govern the correct use of language," etc. See is also misused in the same manner.

unique: As this word implies "being the only one of its kind" it should never be preceded by "very" which implies degree. On this subject the Standard Dictionary says: "We may say quite unique if we mean absolutely singular or without parallel but we can not properly say very unique."

United States: Under this designation the several states comprising the American Union are known collectively as one great nation. As such the expression is singular and accordingly is correctly followed by a verb in the singular.

universally by all: A common error. Where anything is done universally, it must be done by all, and these words being redundant should be omitted.

universe should not be used where earth is intended. If one desires to say of a certain person that he "thinks he owns the earth," one should certainly be careful to limit his vast possessions and not extend them to the universe. The latter embraces all comprised in space. "No doubt, there is a universe; but the word means all created things, as a whole; not only our entire solar system, but all the other systems of which the fixed stars are but the centres."—E. S. Gould, Good English, Misused Words, p. 83.

unless. See without.

unwell, owing to its common euphemistic application, should not be used for "ill."

up: In general the word up, used in such a phrase as "Open up" or "He opened up his sermon with a parable" is redundant and should be omitted. Compare open.

up against it: A colloquial expression used as the equivalent of "face to face with" some condition or thing, usually of a discouraging or disastrous acter. Though common in commercial circles it is an expression that it is best to avoid.

upon: Often used for on in such phrases as "call upon," whether meaning visit or summon, and "speak (or write) upon." The reasonable tendency now is to use the simpler on whenever the idea of superposition is not involved.

usage. Compare habit.

use: This word is used in all sorts of incorrect and inelegant ways; yet the conjugation of the verb is positive and very simple—use; used; using. There appears to be no difficulty in applying it affirmatively but when used in a negative form one often hears such uncouth expressions as "You didn't use to," "you hadn't used to" instead of "You used not to," etc. It need scarcely be said that these expressions are vulgarisms of the worst type. "I usedn't to" is not pretty, but is less formal than "I used not to," and can not be objected to on grammatical grounds.

usually. Compare commonly.

utter as a verb should be distinguished from say, as articulate expression is differentiated from wriitten. To utter, save in the legal sense, is to emit audibly. Adjectively the word can be used only in an unfavorable sense for "complete." Utter discord there may be, but not utter harmony; utter silence, but not utter speech.