“Comprised Of”: Stop It Already!

I have just made my hundredth or so observation of incorrect use of this phrase in published form, meaning it was passed by copyeditors who should know better. Actually, any use of the phrase “comprised of” is incorrect. It is not English. It is not anything.

Various entities are “composed of” certain other entities: Coca-Cola is composed of flavoring, sugar, carbonated water and marketing, for example. You could also say these entities “comprise” those sub-entities of which they are composed: as in the French compris, comprehend, to include or take in, often used interchangeably with the term understand but also implying simple inclusion.

Nothing is ever, ever “comprised of” anything. Just try the synonym test for a better grasp on what I mean. Congress is comprehended of two bodies, the House and the Senate. See the problem?

I started seeing this repellent solecism sometime in the late 70s or early 80s, when I was a proofreader for government boilerplate. People with sub-fusc mentalities and slapdash educations — people whose English SATs were probably right up there with their bowling scores — thought it made them sound cleverer and more sophisticated if they could bounce around a phrase like “comprised of” when there were perfectly good phrases already available to them: composed of, made of, or including. And these pompous middle-management gasbags foisted this simply wrong turn of phrase on the whole American public, just by shoehorning it into every goddam document they could excrete.

Will you people stop it? Some of you should know better! Some of you actually write otherwise literate English and you’re still comprising things of other things as if the phrase meant something! Didn’t any of you study linguistics? Latin? French? Look up the fucking Indo-European roots in your handy dandy American Heritage Dictionary?


26 thoughts on ““Comprised Of”: Stop It Already!

  1. I believe this post is comprised of one part annoyance, one part righteous indignation, and two parts erudition.

    My own hot buttons include:

    “completely unique”

    “vicious circle”

    “it begs the question” (ALWAYS used incorrectly these days)

    “centered around”

    … I could go on, but instead, I’ll have a slug of bourbon.

  2. This is a very useful post. It’s easy to fall into the trap of using cliches, or from ignorance buttressed by arrogance employing other bad writing habits.

    The three major drivers of American English today are: Marketing/Advertising, TV screen writers, lawyers. None of these three drivers places a strong emphasis upon correct usage of grammar, or have a great concern for diction. All three drivers are concerned with presenting persuasive arguments and attention retaining imagery to command audiences and win an active form of compliance. The audience must be persuaded to buy, sit though the advertisement laden performance, or find in favor of the argument to find for or against a client.

    I will possibly except lawyers from sharing an equal amount of guilt here because they are working in a field that has a specific and established vocabulary (dating back to the oldest law codes, cannons, and established customs, that often uses words differently. The lawyer uses English to persuade a jury to see a case differently than the lawyer’s adversary.

    One could write entire books about why, and offer tens of thousands of examples to show how these three drivers have little regard for the rules of proper English.

    The one example that drives me nuts is the use of “subconscious” in place of “unconscious.” Freud spoke of a conscious, preconscious, and an unconscious. This spellchecker doesn’t even know the word.

    I’m no pedant, but this business major (Management and Organizational Development) actually welcomes and appreciates the editorial advice of English majors. Commas and apostrophes seem like so much pepper to me. I freely admit that I need help.

    You are welcome to get out the red pen and work on this comment. I hope you have enough ink.

  3. and while we’re at it can we stop people saying “I’m bored OF it”

    hearing that phrase is worse than nails on a blackboard for me

  4. Could we add “revert back” to the STOP IT! list?

    And could “correct usage of…” be changed to “correct use of…”? Please enlighten me. Can “usage” always be substituted for “use” (noun)? These days it seems that “usage” is preferred to “use” (noun). Maybe I should just accept it and stop being annoyed. After all, language does evolve.

  5. Language does evolve, but the evolution should not happen because the users are ignoramuses.

    One of my pet peeves is the incorrect “I could care less” which should be phrased “I could NOT care less” to indicate your complete disconnection from the certain situation being referred to.

    However, a usage that has cropped up in the local Ozarks that is driving me insane is the following one. People around here go out into the woods and get mosquito bites or other bug bites and then they refer to the resulting mass of red marks on their skin as “being all whelped up.” This is fucking ignorant in addition to being stupid and wrong (wait, am I getting redundant?) and brings into existence a mind-picture of their bodies covered with little tiny puppies. They never do understand the bemused rictus that comes over my face when I hear this phrase, a facial extreme largely caused by my desire to slap them hard across the face and screaming “The word is WELT, dumbass!” which, of course, is not the way to win friends and influence people.

  6. I just heard this from a tech supervisor at a local retail outlet selling computer and printer supplies.

    “I had at least a dozen people in here this week asking if we carried their brand of printer cartilage.”

  7. This blog is very interesting. It seems that much of what we may call “standard English” has become victim of the reality that language is in constant evolution and therefore in the same way that laws on the statute books are changed, the laws governing English usage are changing.

    It is perhaps noteworthy that due to the pace of change to which every aspect of human endeavour is subject, the rate of evolution is accelerating. It has reached the point where I am forced to check with updated versions of dictionaries to discover whether formerly prohibited expressions and structures are now accepted and acceptable.

    For example, there was a time when “and” was never preceded or followed by a comma. Also, the term “presently” was used to indicate that something would occur “in a short while.” I understand the latter is now accepted as a fair translation of “immediately” or “at present.”

    I am now also unsure as to whether it is incorrect to say, “different(ly) than” rather than “different(ly) from or ‘between “x” to “y”‘ instead of ‘between “x” and “y”.’

    There are so many apparent breaches today.

    • I’ve been seeing people furrow their brows over “presently” for years — though I always understood it to mean “in a short while” and used it so — but I can accept someone using it to mean “at present” more comfortably than I can handle that awful “comprised of” solecism. It’s just linguistically wrong.

      I think most of this silliness develops because people run across an unfamiliar word or usage and are too lazy to look it up, after a misspent youth of being similarly too lazy to pay attention in school, or read books that would have made them familiar with the original meanings of words and expressions.

      I have nothing against a robust vernacular by the way — it’s when people try to sound educated and commit howlers that I snap my pencil.

  8. Precisely why I have two copies of Grammar Smart by The Princeton Review. As soon as I spotted my error with the word comprise, I eliminated “of” immediately. But you can hardly blame me as everyone – and I mean everyone – paired the two words together.

    • It’s the peril of grabbing onto meaning from context, which we all do out of expediency from time to time. I have looked up words that I thought I knew how to use and winced at the things I had almost (or already) said. It fostered a resolution to be pre-emptive whenever I noticed I wasn’t entirely sure about a term. Indo-European roots take you a long way but some things just have to be looked up.

      • Heck, I read a dictionary for fun. I suppose it’s not as cutting edge nerdy as a friend of mine whose hobby is memorizing exchange numbers.

        That I’ll never understand. Area codes, possibly. But exchange numbers? Please!

  9. I saw this on http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/comprised

    Definition of COMPRISE
    transitive verb

    1: to include especially within a particular scope
    civilization as Lenin used the term would then certainly have comprised the changes that are now associated in our minds with “developed” rather than “developing” states — Times Literary Supplement

    2: to be made up of
    a vast installation, comprising fifty buildings — Jane Jacobs

    3 : compose, constitute
    a misconception as to what comprises a literary generation — William Styron
    about 8 percent of our military forces are comprised of women — Jimmy Carter

    • I’m sticking with the etymological perspective — and with the usage exemplified by poets, not politicians. (The United States Government, mangling the language for you since World War II.)

  10. Responding to your response on my blog about stupid things people say.

    This is definitely incorrect. “Comprised of” is technically and totally wrong. Unfortunately “mainstream” is often a synonym of “place of shitness”.

  11. Okay, just as a heads up. I am closing comments as of this date.

    This post is a year and a half old and I am NOT interested in pursuing arguments about it with people who want to position themselves as the champions of common usage, versus what they choose to construe as linguistic elitism. (Don’t you love the way that, whenever you point out what is simply erroneous about nearly anything, there is someone primed to shriek “elitism”?)

    If you really believe it’s just fine, in defiance of etymology, to insist that words mean whatever you want them to mean, don’t let me stop you, okay? Just spare me your need to win a fight about it.

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