Goddamnit! plus thoughts on Barry Cunliffe
"A genetically conditioned predisposition to be mobile is, however, balanced by a sense of territoriality which mitigates against wandering."I knew a professor at the Univerity of Pennsylvania who similarly misused mitigate for militate. Mitigate means to ease, mollify, or alleviate: A nip of schnapps mitigated the surgery's painful aftereffects. Militate means to have an effect, to weigh (against), or, loosely, to conspire or work (against): His insistence on correct word usage militates against the possibility that he will ever be promoted. Militate takes a preposition (against). Mitigate does not.
I don't know what Cunliffe's copy editor was doing the day that sentence came across his or her desk. Dreaming of citizen journalism, self-publishing, and the benefits of overthrowing gatekeepers, maybe.
Cunliffe, meanwhile, is even more impressive than I thought. I'd known of his work on the big-picture issue of population origins, but he's also a nuts-and-bolts archaeologist. I have just learned that he was involved in excavating Fishbourne Roman Palace in England, one of the most moving, because most human, of all Roman remains. This knowledge mitigates, if only slightly, my annoyance at his book's misuse of a word.
© Peter Rozovsky 2013