Friday, December 19, 2014

realms of possibility/realm of possibility: The Weekend Edition—Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Friday–Sunday, December 19–21, 2014

realms of possibility/realm of possibility 
We say of something that is not impossible that it is “within the realm of possibility,” or “within the realm of the possible.” The plural form “realms” is so popular in the worlds of fantasy fiction and gaming that it is understandable that many people would refer to “realms of possibility,” but the realm of the possible contains everything that is possible. That’s what its name means. The idea of plural possibilities is already inherent in the word “realm.”

When even serious physicists speculate about multiple “universes” the concept of multiple realms of possibility may sound all right, but it’s neither logical nor traditional.

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The Week’s End Extra from the Archives: “Sorta Speak” (June 18, 2012).

Something is a-SKU in the comics, according to Paul Brians' latest blog post.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

cowered/coward: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Thursday, December 18, 2014

cowered/coward
“Coward” and “cower” may seem logically connected. But “coward”—a noun used to scornfully label a fearful person—is derived from a French root, and “cower”—a verb meaning to crouch down, often fearfully—is derived from an entirely different Nordic one. “Cowered” is just the past tense of “cower” and should not be used as a spelling for the label given to a timid person. It’s always “a coward” and “the coward.”

“Cowered” is also occasionally used improperly when “cowed”—meaning “intimidated”—is meant. It is not related etymologically to either “coward” or “cowered.”

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

assess: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Wednesday, December 17, 2014

assess
“Assess” is a transitive verb; it needs an object. You can assess your team’s chances of winning the bowl game, but you cannot assess that they are playing better than last year. “Assess” is not an all-purpose synonym of “judge” or “estimate.” Most of the time if you write “assess that” you are making a mistake. The errors arise when “that” is being used as a conjunction. Exceptions arise when “that” is a pronoun or adverb: “How do you assess that?” “I assess that team’s chances as good.”

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

extended, extensive: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Tuesday, December 16, 2014

extended, extensive 
“Extended” has to do with time, “extensive” with space. An extended tour lasts a long time; an extensive tour covers a lot of territory.

Monday, December 15, 2014

molten/melted: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Monday, December 15, 2014

molten/melted
“Molten” is now usually used to describe hard materials like lava, glass, and lead liquefied by very high heat. Most other substances are “melted,” though some people like to refer to “molten cheese” and a popular dessert is called “molten chocolate cake,” perhaps to emphasize its gooey, lava-like character.

Friday, December 12, 2014

disembark the vessel/disembark: The Weekend Edition—Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Friday–Sunday, December 12–14, 2014

disembark the vessel/disembark
Announcements on many boats and ships tell passengers when to “disembark the vessel.” This wording makes some of those listening wince.

To “disembark” is to get off a marine vessel or put something or someone off a vessel. The crew disembarks the passengers. On a cargo vessel they may disembark the cargo. It’s the stuff on the ship, not the ship itself, which gets disembarked.

People sensitive to the history of words know that a “bark” is a boat or ship. The word is related etymologically to “barge.”

It would be better to simply tell the passengers to get off the vessel, leave it, or go ashore. But “disembark the vessel” is so well established in the industry that it’s not likely to go away any time soon. Meantime, it can bother you too.

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The Week’s End Extra from the Archives: “Common Errors in English Usage 2nd Edition: It’s a book that deserves its reputation” (October 28, 2008).

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Mongoloid: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Thursday, December 11, 2014

Mongoloid
“Mongoloid” is an outdated anthropological term referring to certain peoples from central and eastern Asia. Its use to label people with Down Syndrome is also dated and highly offensive. Avoid the term entirely. If you have cause to refer to people from Mongolia the proper term is “Mongolian.”