"salary commiserate with experience"

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Sat Jun 10 19:11:00 UTC 2006

I was listening to an audiobook version of Sue Grafton's most recent
Kinsey Millhone alphabet mystery, _S is for Silence_, when I was
stopped short by the reader saying the following:

He didn't feel it yet, the shame, but he would very soon, once the
liquor wore off.  He knew his humiliation was COMMISERATE WITH his
joy, but the joy had been fleeting while the rage would burn at his
core like the fire in the bowels of a coal mine, year after year.
[emphasis added; "commiserate" was pronounced with a schwa in the
unstressed final syllable, as of course "commensurate" would be]

So I checked the written text, and sure enough, the line appears
exactly as written above. Typo?  Reanalysis?  If it was the former
and the reader recognized it as such, why not read the sentence as
"commensurate with", which would certainly be a more orthodox way of
expressing it?  Was the reader just trying to be faithful to
authorial intent, or did she assume it was standard usage?  A
mystery, to be sure.

Anyway, on to google, where a few other instances pop up for "was
commiserate with".  Of the 20 raw hits, some are clearly standard
usage involving the verb "commiserate' [-e:t], e.g. "many retailers
saw little point in gathering each summer in Las Vegas, if all they
were going to do was commiserate with each other"

The relevant (reanalyzed) examples, all of which I assume involve an
adjective that rhymes with "scissor it", include

We were always of the opinion that safety was commiserate with a
stable structure, but we now know that this alone is insufficient in

What we then discovered was commiserate with the estimation that her
students had for her.

Given the height and weight of the father and his ethnicity, the
child's growth pattern was commiserate with her genetic makeup

But there are *634* hits for "is commiserate with", many in job ads of the form

"This is a part-time job and the salary is commiserate with experience."

(Sounds like a good job to avoid.)

I don't see "(be) commiserate with" in the eggcorn database, but
maybe it deserves to be.


The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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