In a recent NY Times article the reporter writes, "Criticisms are also levied at Jews...". I have always heard the idiom as "to level criticism" or to "level charges" against.

Which is the proper expression? Or do they both make sense?

  • 4
    You might find it interesting to keep an eye on the Times's After Deadline blog, written by their associate managing editor for standards, which discusses errors such as this. It's updated every Tuesday. You could also post a comment alerting him of this error. Commented Jun 21, 2015 at 16:29
  • To be clear, this is nothing more than a typo. It's "levelled at..." It's completely normal that even major newspapers have spelling mistakes: no big deal.
    – Fattie
    Commented Nov 3, 2019 at 16:00

3 Answers 3


It's just "levelled" or "level"

"level" simply means "aim" (as in, aim a gun). It's verb definition 4 in the OED

4 [ with obj. ] aim (a weapon): he levelled a pistol at us. • direct (a criticism or accusation): accusations of corruption had been levelled against him.

This really ignorant mistake in the "New York Times" (which used to be a "newspaper of record") helps us remember an important fact about language in the English-speaking world of today:

Standards are incredibly low.

It's common to find on this site, questions about something which is actually just a complete editing screw-up by a major publication -- such as the example here.

  • +1 for the rant on standards of those that should know better
    – Avon
    Commented Jun 21, 2015 at 16:03
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    The oldest known writing is Sumerian cuneiform, a system of wedge-shaped glyphs (hence the name, from the Latin, cuneus for wedge) that archaeologists tell us was developed by scribes as an accounting system for commodities. I am fairly certain that shortly after its invention, a scribe wrote a diatribe lamenting the low standards that had led to the debasement of Sumerian. +1 for tradition.
    – deadrat
    Commented Jun 21, 2015 at 20:05
  • Hi DeadRat. Funny, but it's a very simple observation that in the US or UK, spelling, grammar, "commercial" language, novels and periodicals have drastically declined since - let's say - Churchill's day; the last 60 years.
    – Fattie
    Commented Jun 22, 2015 at 9:46
  • Just how does it make sense to "level charges" against a defendant or "level criticism" against some political opponent. "Level" means to make even, but the use in these senses means to burden with.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Nov 3, 2019 at 1:41
  • HL, I'm pretty sure it just means "to aim at". Which was a standard usage for a long time.
    – Fattie
    Commented Nov 3, 2019 at 13:04

Ignorant though it might be, the use of "levy" to mean "level" has a long pedigree. The above-cited OED has this as meaning no. 7:

  1. Wrongly used for level v.1

1618 N. Breton Court & Country (Grosart) 6/1 Winking with one eye, as though hee were leuying at a Woodcocke.

a1635 T. Randolph De Histrice in Two Poems (1638) 26 Fam'd Stymphall, I have heard, thy birds in flight Shoot showers of arrowes forth all levied right.

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    – TimR
    Commented Jun 21, 2015 at 16:49
  • A typo which is common.
    – Fattie
    Commented Jun 22, 2015 at 9:46
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    @JoeBlow. It is not a typo. It is a malapropism.
    – fdb
    Commented Jun 22, 2015 at 11:56
  • good one. ------
    – Fattie
    Commented Jun 22, 2015 at 13:38

Either "levied against" once was the preferred form, or typesetters of old made this setto(?) habitually.



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