The Grammarphobia Blog

Plutonic relations

Q: I noticed a recent usage that might amuse you. Last month, a spokesman for Roger Clemens said the pitcher’s relationship with a 15-year-old girl was “strictly plutonic.” Any comment?

A: Thanks for your tip about “strictly plutonic,” but I suspect this may be another case of a language story that’s too good to be true.

I haven’t been able to find a legitimate news report in which a spokesman for Roger Clemens says his relationship with the country singer Mindy McCready was “strictly plutonic” or, for that matter, “strictly platonic.”

The New York Daily News, which broke the story in early May, quoted Clemens’s lawyer, Rusty Hardin, as saying the pitcher “has never had a sexual relationship with her.” But Hardin didn’t use the word “plutonic” or “platonic” to describe the relationship.

It turns out that the mother of the 33-year-old singer did, however, say her daughter had a “platonic relationship” with Clemens when she was a teenager. Not “plutonic,” though.

Some people commenting online about the situation seem to have messed up the facts and inaccurately said Clemens or his spokesman had referred to the relationship as either “strictly plutonic” or “strictly platonic.”

Nevertheless, I’m glad you wrote me about this. In googling “strictly plutonic,” I got nearly 2,500 hits, many of them meant to be serious. Is this the start of a new usage? Let’s hope not.

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