April 11, 2005
The Zeal of the Converted
Posted by Christine Hurt

If you read Kevin Drum, you know that he is a recent convert to the proper use of the phrase "begs the question."  (Nutshell:  the phrase translates "begs off the question," not "begs for the question.")  His new-found zeal reminds me of my own pet peeve:  the misuse of the term "comprise." 

99.9% of the population uses "comprise" to mean "constitute."  This is wrong, according to wise people like Strunk & White (and me).  I learned this in law school:  "comprise" means "is constituted by."  So, the whole comprises the parts, not the other way around.  So, "the faculty comprises classroom and clinical teachers," not "classroom and clinical teachers comprise the faculty."  My yellowed copy of Strunk & White states:

Comprise. Literally, "embrace": A zoo comprises mammals, reptiles, and birds (because it "embraces," or "includes," them). But animals do not comprise ("embrace") a zoo -- they constitute a zoo.

This usage seems more honored in the breach, but perhaps I am being part of the solution here!

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