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The Baltimore Sun

Give up: careen/career

I happened to pick up the late John Bremner’s Words on Words and noticed the entry on CAREEN / CAREER / CAROM. As recently as 1980, a precisionist would observe these distinctions:

Careen, from the Latin carina, ship’s keel, means to move from side to side. Those of you who have read naval novels will remember that in the absence of a dry dock, a wooden ship could be careened, tilted on its side, on a beach to permit repairs and the removal or barnacles.

Career, Mr. Bremner pointed out, is etymologically distinct, deriving from the French carrière, racecourse, and means to move at high speed—to hurtle.

Carom is to strike and rebound, from the French carambole, the red ball in billiards.

But twentieth-century American English determinedly made careen do the work of career, as Wilson Follett was saying as far back as 1966. Today, the old “correct” usage career looks odd to many, perhaps most, readers and, the shades of John Bremner and Theodore M. Bernstein notwithstanding, should probably be retired if you haven’t done so already.

 

 

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