Jul 3, 2005

I'm not going to pretend that what I'm about to address is on any level "important", but I feel like it has to be mentioned.

It's time for people to stop using the word "untracked" to mean "get into one's groove". The latest in a long string of offenders is ESPN's Peter Gammons, but he's far from alone. It happens all the fucking time, and here's why it's wrong.

The Oxford American Dictionary defines "untracked" as "not previously explored or traversed; without tracks", and two other, similar definitions. After that, it mentions its usage as part of a phrase meaning "get into one's stride or find good form". I'm certain that the phrase-based definition was added as a reaction to common usage, but that doesn't make it correct. The basic problem is that it's an obfuscation. The prefix "un" indicates a void, so to use the word in a phrase like "yet to get untracked" suggests, more than anything, that the person being addressed has yet to lose his stride - the exact opposite of what is intended. I suspect that the meaning has been reversed because people started confusing "untracked" with its near-homonym "on track". Repetition has led to acceptance, but it's still wrong. Writing is an exercise in judgment calls. Many of them are difficult, and I'm the first to admit that some of them are made without any actual thought. It's just part of the process. That said, it's communication more than it's anything else, and clarity is worth considering.

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