Myriad ways to say it

More

I'm feeling a wee bit trivial as everybody else argues about the election or the economy and I slog along minding our language. All I can say in my defense is that readers continue to show an interest. For example, this just in, from a reader named Wanda Lee:


YES! I have a language question! Mine is something that grates like chalk on a blackboard when I read it--but if editors at publishing companies don't correct it I figure I must be the one in the wrong. Please straighten this out for me.

"Myriad" or "a myriad of"? I've always considered "myriad" itself to mean the same as "a lot of," but now it seems either usage is OK with publishers. "A myriad of" reads to me the same as "a a lot of of" or "a many of of." To tell you the truth, I hope I'm wrong so I can get over it annoying me so because I think it's here to stay!

Thank you for a service that is so helpful--to some of us.

Wanda, just as you hoped ...

The "myriad" you like is a perfectly good adjective, as in this snippet from the Iowa City Press-Citizen:

Brian Flaherty, chairman of the Johnson County Democratic Party, ... added that myriad issues from health care to the war in Iraq to the nation's standing in the world have inspired people to volunteer.

But the word is also a perfectly good noun, as in this recent AP story:

A sampling of presidential campaign-oriented direct mail from some of the battlegrounds reveals a myriad of messages. 

Or this from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer

It's difficult to tell how large the Obama or McCain campaigns' online networks are -- or how many e-mail addresses either have gathered.

But for Washington voters, that combined with a competitive gubernatorial race and a myriad of other hotly contested races and ballot measures could mean a lot of extra lunchtime reading -- or a lot of deleting.

(Well, yes, those bits are from political news -- language is relevant to everything!)
In fact, the noun came first, appearing in texts from the mid 1500s, whereas the adjective wasn't invented until almost 200 years later. And -- get this -- originally it meant 10,000 of anything, especially soldiers. So if an enemy force decimated a myriad ... Who wants to do the math?

Wanda, may I suggest you start thinking of "myriad" as roughly synonymous with both "numerous" and "a number of" or "plentiful" and "plenty of"? 

Jump to comments
Presented by

Visit Barbara Wallraff’s blog, at barbarawallraff .theatlantic.com, to see more commentary on language and to submit Word Fugitive queries and words that meet David K. Prince’s need. Readers whose queries are published and those who take top honors will receive an autographed copy of Wallraff’s most recent book, Word Fugitives. More

Barbara WallraffBarbara Wallraff, a contributing editor and columnist for The Atlantic, has worked for the magazine for 25 years. She is also a weekly syndicated newspaper columnist for King Features and the author of Word Fugitives (2006), Your Own Words (2004), and the national best-seller Word Court (2000). Her writing about language has appeared in The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, The Wilson Quarterly, The American Scholar, and The New York Times Magazine.

Wallraff has been an invited speaker at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, the National Writers Workshop, the Nieman Foundation, Columbia Journalism School, the British Institute Library of Florence, and national or international conventions of the American Copy Editors Society, the Council of Science Editors, the International Education of Students organization, and the Journalism Education Association. She has been interviewed about language on the Nightly News With Tom Brokaw and dozens of radio programs including Fresh Air, The Diane Rehm Show, and All Things Considered. National Public Radio's Morning Edition once commissioned her to copy edit the U.S. Constitution. She is a member of the American Heritage Dictionary Usage Panel. The Genus V edition of the game Trivial Pursuit contains a question about Wallraff and her Word Court column.

Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

What Do You See When You Look in the Mirror?

In a series of candid video interviews, women talk about self-image, self-judgment, and what it means to love their bodies


Elsewhere on the web

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

Adventures in Legal Weed

Colorado is now well into its first year as the first state to legalize recreational marijuana. How's it going? James Hamblin visits Aspen.

Video

What Makes a Story Great?

The storytellers behind House of CardsandThis American Life reflect on the creative process.

Video

Tracing Sriracha's Origin to Thailand

Ever wonder how the wildly popular hot sauce got its name? It all started in Si Racha.

Video

Where Confiscated Wildlife Ends Up

A government facility outside of Denver houses more than a million products of the illegal wildlife trade, from tigers and bears to bald eagles.

Video

Is Wine Healthy?

James Hamblin prepares to impress his date with knowledge about the health benefits of wine.

Video

The World's Largest Balloon Festival

Nine days, more than 700 balloons, and a whole lot of hot air

Writers

Up
Down

More in Entertainment

Just In