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Words Yangtze

Suggest improvements for the highlighted problem area:

Vacation Journal, 14 August:

We are being delayed briefly in Hangchow, but we will depart momentarily. Our guide, Wu Liyao, explained that our exploreation will take us slowly through the Yangtze delta to the ocean. She inferred that it would be a long trip. Along the way we will see the levees built 1200 years ago on both sides of the river. Each levee composes two sturdy embankments for a distance of 200 kilometers. There is excitment in our tour group. I am eager to see the ancient walls, but I am anxious about the weather. The previous tour boat had to stop 20 kilometers from the ocean. Bad weather kept them from going further.


- Presently versus Momentarily -

Our opening paragraph begins with a common error:

    We are being delayed briefly in Hangchow, but we will depart momentarily.

The word momentarily means for a moment or for a short time or in an instant. It doesn't make much sense to write: we will depart for a moment. Of course it might make sense to say: we will depart in a moment. Writers with a desire to write with more elegance might instead use the word presently:

    We are being delayed momentarily in Hangchow, but we will depart presently.

The word presently means before long or soon. A complication is that the word presently also means at present or now. For many years purists have insisted that presently should mean soon and that momentarily should mean now. But, any traveler in an American airport today is bombarded with announcements like: "Flight 583 will depart from gate 82 momentarily. Flight 394 is presently boarding at gate 84." This obviously annoys the purists. However, definitions and usage do sometimes change over time. Both of these words are currently used to mean both soon and now. It may transpire that the airlines will succeed in reversing the purist-preferred definitions of these words. Time will tell. Proponents of simplicity might advise that we just avoid fancy words and simply say:

    We are being delayed in Hangchow, but will depart soon.

But remember this is a journal entry -- you are writing for yourself. It is a safe place to roll your pen along eloquent lines and just be vocabulous.


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