Friday, July 25, 2014

l/ll: The Weekend Edition—Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Friday–Sunday, July 25–27, 2014

l/ll 
There are quite a few words spelled with a double L in UK English which are spelled in the US with a single L. Examples include “woollen” (US “woolen”), “counsellor” (US “counselor”), “medallist” (US “medalist”), “jeweller” (US “jeweler”), “initialled” (US “initialed”), “labelled” (US “labeled”), “signalled” (US “signaled”), “totalled” (US “totaled”).

Most of these won’t cause Americans serious problems if they use the UK spelling, and a good spelling checker set to US English will catch them. But “chilli” looks distinctly odd to Americans when it turns up in the UK-influenced English of South Asian cookbooks. Americans are used to seeing it spelled “chili.” (Of course Spanish speakers think it should be chile.)



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The Week's End Extra from the Archives: "Even more errors: razor-tight" (November 7, 2012).

Paul Brians comments on Weird Al's "Word Crimes" in his latest blog post.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

aural/oral: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Thursday, July 24, 2014

aural/oral 
“Aural” has to do with things you hear, “oral” with things you say, or relating to your mouth.


Wednesday, July 23, 2014

worse comes to worse/worst comes to worst: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Wednesday, July 23, 2014

worse comes to worse/worst comes to worst 
The traditional idiom is “if worst comes to worst.” The modern variation “worse comes to worst” is a little more logical. “Worse comes to worse” is just a mistake.



Tuesday, July 22, 2014

holocaust: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Tuesday, July 22, 2014

holocaust 
“Holocaust” is a Greek-derived translation of the Hebrew term olah, which denotes a sort of ritual sacrifice in which the food offered is completely burnt up rather than being merely dedicated to God and then eaten. It was applied with bitter irony by Jews to the destruction of millions of their number in the Nazi death camps. Although phrases like “nuclear holocaust” and “Cambodian holocaust” have become common, you risk giving serious offense by using the word in less severe circumstances, such as calling a precipitous decline in stock prices a “sell-off holocaust.”

Monday, July 21, 2014

bully pulpit: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Monday, July 21, 2014

bully pulpit 
We occasionally still use the old positive meaning of the word “bully” when congratulating somebody (sincerely or sarcastically) by saying “Bully for you!” A century ago “bully” meant “good,” “great.”

That’s why Theodore Roosevelt called the American presidency a “bully pulpit,” meaning that it provided him an outstanding platform from which to preach his ideas. The expression is often misused by writers who mistakenly think it has something to do with preaching at people in a bullying way.


Friday, July 18, 2014

your guys’s/your: The Weekend Edition—Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Friday–Sunday, July 18–20, 2014

your guys’s/your 
Many languages have separate singular and plural forms for the second person (ways of saying “you”), but standard English does not. “You” can be addressed to an individual or a whole room full of people.

In casual speech, Americans have evolved the slangy expression “you guys” to function as a second-person plural, formerly used of males only but now extended to both sexes; but this is not appropriate in formal contexts. Diners in fine restaurants are often irritated by clueless waiters who ask “Can I get you guys anything?”

The problem is much more serious when extended to the possessive: “You guys’s dessert will be ready in a minute.” Some people even create a double possessive by saying “your guys’s dessert. . . .” This is extremely clumsy. When dealing with people you don’t know intimately, it’s best to stick with “you” and “your” no matter how many people you’re addressing.



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The Week's End Extra from the Archives: "Walk and Roll" (October 3, 2012).
Of roses, poetry, and comic strips: Paul Brians' recent blog posts discuss two (or three) of his favorite topics.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

contaminates/contaminants: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Thursday, July 17, 2014

contaminates/contaminants 
When run-off from a chemical plant enters the river it contaminates the water; but the goo itself consists of contaminants.