How to Find the Right Word: Extol or Exhort

Newspaper disappears!

The Newhouse newspaper chain has already converted its New Orleans daily to three times a week and announced plans to do the same in Syracuse at the beginning of 2013. It’s only a matter of time for Portland (Ore.) and the other Newhouse dailies.  As newspapers consolidate and convert to web transmission, reporters and editors lose jobs, of course. Even the remaining titans, such as the New York Times and Washington Post, have fewer eyeballs looking at each article.

Here’s one example: In its account of  a Washington Nationals’ bench-clearing fracas with the Chicago Cubs, the Post wrote: “[Manager Davey Johnson] extols his players to not let the opponent dictate when to stop competing.”

Unfortunately, the verb the writer intended was exhort. Extol means to praise highly, or exalt. The Post writer meant to use exhort: to urge by strong, stirring argument. Manager Johnson was encouraging his players to act in a specified manner, not lauding them for doing it.

Using extol instead of exhort is a common error. In Chocolat, the highly praised romantic comedy with Juliette Binoche and Johnny Depp released in 2000, the town’s mayor – an educated man – tells the local priest, “She is extolling them to eat chocolate in Lent.” The mayor in that movie also meant exhorting. Or perhaps a simple “encouraging” would have done the trick.

Choosing the right words is hard.  A skilled editor  makes the process easier and improves the results. Take my word on it.

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Filed under Behind the Words, Commentary, Grammar, Writing Tips

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