When I was transcribing the following sentence of Time magazine’s (September 1st issue) article ’”The Tragedy of Ferguson”;

“We elected a black man with a Muslim name to be President. What other country would do that? The conversation has been blunted by the President himself in the face of some of the most tawdry race-baiting since Selma.”

the alarm of MS Word grammar checker popped out on the desktop giving the following suggestion, and demanding correction;

“Comparative Use: When comparing with a one-syllable adjective and “er” or “est” to the end of adjective, do not use “more” or “most”. When comparing with a two syllable adjective, add “or” or “est” in addition to the adjective. Instead of: This star is more bright, consider, This star is brightest.

Did the writer neglected “er /est” on one /two-syllable-word rule, or “most tawdry” is perfectlly acceptable, and I should dismiss grammar checker warnings?

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    Bisyllables ending in /i/ can swing both ways, especially if they have an internal /dr/ cluster like tawdry /'tɔdri/. More easy is much rarer than easier, which is practically fixed, but more tawdry seems easier than tawdrier, which is bound to trap some readers as taw-drier and get them wondering what the hell "taw" is and why it needs to be dried. Writers and editors have to consider a lot of things. – John Lawler Oct 3 '14 at 0:01
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    @John Lawler Doctors hope to have a cure for the internal /dr/ cluster by the end of the decade. – Edwin Ashworth Oct 3 '14 at 0:06
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    @John Lawler. I don't understand 'internal/dr/cluster. What does it mean? – Yoichi Oishi Oct 3 '14 at 0:15
  • The word "tawdry" containse the consonant cluster /dr/. That is, there is a /d/ sound followed by an /r/ sound, without a vowel in between them. That's common in English and not in Japanese, which must have a vowel between consonants. The symbols inside slashes represent English pronunciation, not spelling. – John Lawler Oct 3 '14 at 1:22
  • Tawdry would seem to be the only bilsyllable adjective with an internal /dr/ ending in /i/. – Neil W Oct 4 '14 at 3:38

"Most tawdry since" is a perfectly reasonable qualifier, comparing this instance to all others since the cited time or incident.

Microsoft Word's rules are applied rather mindlessly, and are often inappropriate for real-world writing. Take them as suggestions to be considered -- and possibly rejected -- NOT as expert advice. Or turn them off entirely, since in my experience they're less than helpful.


A search with Google nGram viewer indicates that both tawdriest and most tawdry are in common use today.

MS Word's grammar checker is good for spotting careless mistakes like using your instead of you're, but it should never be treated as authoritative.

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