Friday, October 31, 2014

demure/demur: The Weekend Edition—Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Friday–Sunday, October 31–November 2, 2014

demure/demur
A quiet, reserved person is demure. Its second syllable begins with a kittenish “mew”: “de-MYURE.”

The verb demur has several meanings, but is now used in a sense derived from law to describe the action of someone who resists acting as requested or answering a question. Its second syllable sounds like the “mur” in “murmur”: “duh-MURR.” Note that it is not spelled with a final E. It is used mainly in legal contexts and in journalism, and is unfamiliar enough to many people that they mix it up with the adjective demure. An example of correct use: “If they ask me to make Danish pastries again, I’m going to demur.” Demurs are usually mild, not loud, vehement refusals.

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The Week's End Extra from the Archives: "Mangled menus" (December 13, 2012).

Thursday, October 30, 2014

breakup/break up: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Thursday, October 30, 2014

breakup/break up
A breakup is what happens when two people break up. The one-word form is the result, whereas the two-word form is the action that leads to it.

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Paul Brians' latest blog post considers the Northwest's rainy reputation.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

dozen of/dozen: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Wednesday, October 29, 2014

dozen of/dozen
Why isn’t it “a dozen of eggs” when it’s standard to say “a couple of eggs”? The answer is that “dozen” is a precise number word, like “two” or “hundred”; we say “two eggs,” “a hundred eggs,” and “a dozen eggs.”

“Couple” is often used less precisely, to mean “a few,” so it isn’t treated grammatically as an exact number. “A couple eggs” is less standard than “a couple of eggs.”

“Dozens of eggs” is standard because you’re not specifying how many dozens you’re talking about.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

valuble/valuable: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Tuesday, October 28, 2014

valuble/valuable
Few of us pronounce the second A in “valuable” distinctly; just be sure to include it when writing the word.

Monday, October 27, 2014

try and/try to: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Monday, October 27, 2014

try and/try to
Although “try and” is common in colloquial speech and will usually pass unremarked there, in writing try to remember to use “try to” instead of “try and.”

Friday, October 24, 2014

oeuvre: The Weekend Edition—Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Friday–Sunday, October 24–26, 2014

oeuvre
In French oeuvre means “work” in many different ways. In English we use the word only in the specialized sense “the body of work produced by an individual creator.” Unfortunately, “oeuvre” begins with a vowel sound we don’t have in English and ends in a French R that also does not correspond to any English sound. The result is often grotesque mispronunciations like “oove.” It’s better to avoid foreign words like this if you haven’t mastered the accent. “Body of work” or “output” will do fine.

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The Week's End Extra from the Archives: "Sure it's no good, but is it non-grammatical?" (February 22, 2013).

Thursday, October 23, 2014

in tact/intact: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Thursday, October 23, 2014

in tact/intact
Often common two-word phrases are smooshed into a single word (“anymore,” “alot,” “everytime,” “incase,” “infact”). Here’s an example where some people err in the other direction. When something survives undamaged, whole, it is not “in tact” but “intact”—one word, unbroken.