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Ben Franklin, who lived to the ripe old age of 84, wore many hats – Founding Father, author, scientist, inventor, statesman. You name it, Ben tried it. We have him to thank for bifocals, the Franklin stove, and the subscription library, forerunner of our modern libraries.

In 1732, he began writing “Poor Richard’s Almanac,” which included poems and sayings, one of which – “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,”- inspires today’s tidbit:

Is it “preventive” or “preventative”? It can be a bit of a soapbox issue for some.

Merriam-Webster defines the verb “prevent” as follows:

1.  To hold or keep back

2.  To keep from happening or existing

If we toss out two examples, we have:

Sam held his arm out firmly to prevent the toddler from falling down the steps.

By stuffing the hideous shirt in the bottom of the garbage, Edna prevented Orville from leaving the house dressed like an idiot.

In both examples, the subjects prevented something from happening. The toddler is safe, and Orville can head to work, dressed in sartorial splendor. Or not.

For a while now, I’ve noticed an interloper, a sneaky almost-twin inserting itself into unsuspecting sentences. It’s preventative and I’m sure you’ve seen it, too.

At one of my previous jobs, the maintenance crew performed what their books called “preventative maintenance” on factory equipment to make sure the machines ran properly.

But what, exactly, were they preventativing from happening? Weren’t they instead preventing potential equipment meltdowns by performing routine maintenance? So wouldn’t it be preventive maintenance? I think so!

Both words have the same meaning, so does it really matter which one you use? Maybe most people don’t care; to those who do, it matters. One source I checked suggested that “preventative” is “often used in publications and websites not known for high editorial standards.”

So today’s tidbit boils down to a choice. While it may  not seem like a biggie, good grammar always wins out. I’ll leave you with a quote from Sigismund of Luxemburg, Holy Roman Emperor from 1433 – 1437. Sigismund, known more for his wars and conquests than his bookish thoughts, once uttered:

“I am the Roman Emperor, and am above grammar.”

Take that!

 

 

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