SIR: My son objects to the way my husband tacks "-wise" onto words, as in "repairwise," "barkingwise" and so on. I hadn't noticed this habit until my son several times requested clarification of what my husband meant. Usagewise, is it acceptable? - Fran B.
ANSWER: Some "-wise" words, meaning "in the manner of," are fine - "clockwise," for example. But when they mean "with reference to," as in your two examples, they generally cause sensitive people to shudder.A few years ago, members of the Usage Panel of the Harper Dictionary of Contemporary Usage were asked if they would accept a sentence like "Performancewise, the new man proved a failure," either in writing or in casual speech. Ninety-four percent said no, not in writing, and 82 percent said no, not even in casual speech. And the American Heritage Dictionary, a sister volume, commented:
"The practice of attaching `-wise' to nouns, in the sense of `with reference to,' has become so closely associated with commercial jargon in the minds of many writers and speakers that it is dubious usage on any higher level. Resistance to such combinations is also strengthened by the tendency of some persons to form them indiscriminately and to overuse them."
Aside from all that, the fact seems to be that "-wise" words became wildly popular some years ago but then began to disappear because so many people got plain fed up with them. Apparently your husband is out of date, wisewise.
SIR: Why do we spell "4" f-o-u-r and "40" f-o-r-t-y? When I'm writing checks, I invariably mix them up. - Dave R.
ANSWER: Like many words, "forty" has gone through a number of different spellings, and for several centuries it was indeed spelled "fourty." But cooler heads finally prevailed. Think how many letters you save in a year by leaving out the "u."
SIR: Who's right? Even some schoolbooks say, "A had two times more money than B," meaning A had twice as much. I say that two times more is equivalent to three times as much - James B.
ANSWER: And I say you're right, but then I never was very good at figures. Does anyone disagree?
TART QUESTION of the week, asked by Lillian B.:
"My newspaper had a headline saying a woman in our area `has the metal to be a Marine.' Do you think she'll be one of the top brass?