‘Sanction’ misused

A front page headline on Jan. 17 commits a common error when dealing with the word “sanction.” This interesting word has very different meanings as a noun and as a verb. As a noun (for example, “the organization received a sanction”) the word refers to a penalty, but as a verb (for example, “the university sanctioned the organization”) the word refers to an approval.

The news story to which I refer reported that an organization had received a punishment, so it was correct to say that it “received sanctions.” That being the case, the headliner’s declaring that the organization was “sanctioned” conveys the opposite (and wrong) impression that approval was conferred upon the organization.

Jerrold H. Zar

associate provost for Graduate

Studies and Research,

dean of the Graduate School