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Words on the loose: mitigate, casuist, capitulating, enormity, layin’

[12 Nov 2012] The source of an occasional whinge here is that published authors mix up their ‘militates’ and ‘mitigates’, with many seeming to think that ‘mitigate against’ is a possible construction. As ‘mitigate’ conventionally means ‘to reduce the severity or effect of sth [something]’, the addition of ‘against’ turns it into rhubarb. Here are three recent examples of this grievous fourth-form error by salaried journalists, two from the sports pages of a leading national newspaper:

  • ‘No matter, say, that Twenty20 matches that start at 7.30pm might not finish until 11pm, precluding young children from attending and mitigating against away fans travelling any great distance.’ (Daily Telegraph, 6 Nov 2012)
  • ‘China’s recent swimming history mitigates against Ye, too.’ (Daily Telegraph, 31 July 2012)
  • ‘Building a housing estate next to a working factory does cause its own problems with measures included to mitigate against noise, odour and dust.’ (Buxton Advertiser, 8 Nov 2012)

In the final example, omitting ‘against’ would have made sense, but the others would have been redeemed only by swapping ‘militate’ for ‘mitigate’.

The meaning of ‘militate’ is easily remembered by association with ‘military’, so ‘militate against’ means to fight against or work against. The word is rarely seen without its loyal batman ‘against’. [cont]

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