Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Strait-Laced


It often surprises people that straight-laced is wrong — the correct spelling is strait-laced (US spelling straitlaced). 

The word strait is a noun meaning ‘a narrow passage of water that connects two seas or large areas of water’ (Oxford), e.g. the Straits of Gibraltar, Straits of Malacca, Johor Straits.  There are also figurative expressions, of course, such as dire straits and desperate financial straits.

No doubt the writer was exercising literary licence in her descriptions of Tiger Woods in the above excerpt (Straits Times,12 December 2009), in which she uses the superlative forms cleanest, straightest and goodiest, but straightest shows quite clearly that she has confused the noun strait (which cannot take the suffix –est) with the adjective straight (which can).

2 comments:

CLARK said...

While what you say is correct, couldn't it be that the author was aware that strait was not straight and was just using poetic licence/license to make her point effectively?

By the way I good a good laugh recently when a sports journalist wrote about highly paid sportsmen as 'pre Madonnas'.

The Grammar Terrorist said...

Hi, Clark

Yes--as I'd noted, she may have been exercising poetic licence. But I doubt she would've done so if she'd understood that the word was 'strait' and what it meant.

'Pre-Madonna'--nice!