“substitute X for Y”

Mailbox mailbox at GRAMMARPHOBIA.COM
Thu Aug 15 18:17:47 UTC 2013

This morning I stumbled across what seems to be a reversed meaning for “substitute” in the Telegraph online. 
A headline reads: “Chinese zoo substitutes lion for dog”; the deck below reads: “A zoo in China has substituted lions and wolves for dogs and rats for snakes in what is being seen as a cost-cutting exercise.”
In fact, as the article explains, the zoo’s lion and its wolf were replaced by Tibetan mastiff dogs. In the reptile cages, meanwhile, snakes were replaced by rats.  

So “substitute” was used unconventionally in one case (lions for dogs) and conventionally in the other (rats for snakes). 
I’ve occasionally fielded questions from readers of my blog who can’t sort this out either. Apparently the Telegraph headline writer was covering all bases.
Pat O’Conner  

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

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