A CENTURY AGO, Ambrose Bierce, in ''Write It Right," laid down the law on hundreds of usage points: Avoid the words pants (''vulgar exceedingly"), he said, and bug; imaginary line is redundant; a family doesn't move, it removes to a new house.
Bierce would no doubt be surprised to see that most of his battles are long lost, replaced by tussles over impact, incentivize, and hone in. But are we any better at predicting the future? Spit is now a past tense; will snuck be joining it soon? Are all misplaced modifiers sinful, or only the ones that make us laugh out loud?
And why, asks the American Heritage Guide to Contemporary Usage, is the sentence adverb hopefully still despised-only 34 percent of the usage panel accepts it-after 40 years of increasing popularity?
With this week's poll, we're hoping to get a reading on a few current usages, some of them controversial, others stealth mutations we're barely aware of. This isn't a quiz you can ace, but a survey: Tell us not what your English teacher would like to hear, but what you would write.
Note: Voting has ended for this survey. Below, please find the final tallies. (About 50 mailed and e-mailed responses were also tallied; those votes did not affect the percentages shown here.) The asterisked (*) answer is the one in original quote.