Get the Lead Out!

By Tina Blue
November 13, 2003

All right.  I wasn't going to get into it, but now that we know there are no WMDs in Iraq, I guess I'm going to have to.  Otherwise I will just keep seeing it and hearing it, since it's all over the news and on political message boards, and its effect on me is precisely that of fingernails on a blackboard for those who are not as deaf as I am.

There is this verb in English, you see--the verb "lead."  "To lead" means to guide someone or something forward.  You lead a horse to water and hope he will drink.  You mislead someone when you misinform him.  Lead.  Mislead.  Present tense.

Now, these selfsame verbs have past tense forms.  Today you might lead your horse to water.  But yesterday, you would have led him there.  And if you were promulgating misinformation yesterday or last week--or maybe last spring, prior to our ill-considered invasion of Iraq--why, then, you would have misled those who trusted your words.

What you did not do is what is captured in this all-too-frequent error: 

WRONG:  I lead my horse to water yesterday.

WRONG: I mislead the American public about whether Iraq                             had weapons of mass destruction.

No, no, no.  The word "lead," when pronounced "led" (the same way as the past tense of the verb "to lead") is not a verb at all, but a  noun, referring to the element that we pretend graphite is when we use it in pencils, the element we use to shield ourselves from radiation when we get dental X-rays or mammograms.

Please.  Let's get these words straight.  We were absolutely not  mislead about WMDs in Iraq.  Not at all.  We were misled.

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