Monday, December 31, 2012

without further adieu/without further ado: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Monday, December 31, 2012

without further adieu/without further ado

This familiar cliché introducing speakers and performing acts has nothing to do with saying adieu (goodbye) to them. It means “without further blather, fuss, or to-do.” The last word is “ado.”






Sunday, December 30, 2012

curve your appetite/curb your appetite: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Sunday, December 30, 2012

curve your appetite/curb your appetite
A “curb” was originally a device used to control an unruly horse. Already in the 18th century people were speaking by analogy of controlling their appetites as “curbing” them. You do not “curve” your hunger, appetite, desires, etc. You curb them.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

adverse/averse: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Saturday, December 29, 2012

adverse/averse
The word “adverse” turns up most frequently in the phrase “adverse circumstances,” meaning difficult circumstances, circumstances which act as an adversary; but people often confuse this word with “averse,” a much rarer word, meaning having a strong feeling against, or aversion toward.

Friday, December 28, 2012

beaurocracy/bureaucracy: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Friday, December 28, 2012

beaurocracy/bureaucracy
The French bureaucrats from whom we get this word worked at their bureaus (desks, spelled bureaux in French) in what came to be known as bureaucracies.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

cue/queue: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Thursday, December 27, 2012

cue/queue
“Cue” has a variety of meanings, but all uses of “queue” relate to its original French meaning of “tail,” which becomes a metaphor for a line (beware, however: in French queue is also rude slang for the male sex organ). Although a few dictionaries accept “cue” as an alternative spelling for the braided tail some people make of their hair or a waiting line, traditionally both are queues: “Sun Yat Sen ordered that all Chinese men should cut off their queues,” “I have over 300 movies in my Netflix queue.”

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Check/Czech: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Check/Czech 
Pronounce the name of the country which broke away from the former Czechoslovakia to form the Czech Republic as “check,” but don’t spell it that way. Its citizens are Czechs.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

every (plural vs. singular): Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Tuesday, December 25, 2012

every (plural vs. singular)
“Every,” “everybody,” “everyone,” and related expressions are normally treated as singular in American English: “Every woman I ask out tells me she already has plans for Saturday night.” However, constructions like “everyone brought their own lunch” are widely accepted now because of a desire to avoid specifying “his” or “her.”

Monday, December 24, 2012

anxious/eager: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Monday, December 24, 2012


anxious/eager
Most people use “anxious” interchangeably with “eager,” but its original meaning had to do with worrying, being full of anxiety. Perfectly correct phrases like “anxious to please” obscure the nervous tension implicit in this word and lead people to say less correct things like, “I’m anxious for Christmas morning to come so I can open my presents.” Traditionalists frown on anxiety-free anxiousness. Say instead you are eager for or looking forward to a happy event.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

epic/epoch: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Sunday, December 23, 2012

epic/epoch
An “epoch” is a long period of time, like the Pleistocene Epoch. It often gets mixed up with “epic” in the sense of “large-scale.” Something really big has “epic proportions,” not “epoch proportions.”

Saturday, December 22, 2012

in sink/in synch: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Saturday, December 22, 2012

in sink/in synch
“In synch” is short for “in synchronization” and has nothing to do with sinking.

Friday, December 21, 2012

nuptual/nuptial: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Friday, December 21, 2012

nuptual/nuptial
“Nuptial” is usually a pretentious substitute for “wedding,” but if you’re going to use it, be sure to spell it properly. For the noun, the plural form “nuptials” is more traditional.

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Thursday, December 20, 2012

per/according to: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Thursday, December 20, 2012

per/according to 
Using “per” to mean “according to,” as in “ship the widgets as per the instructions of the customer,” is rather old-fashioned business jargon and is not welcome in other contexts. “Per” is fine when used in phrases involving figures like “miles per gallon.”

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Wednesday, December 19, 2012

infact/in fact: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Wednesday, December 19, 2012

infact/in fact
“In fact” is always two words.



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Tuesday, December 18, 2012

biweekly/semiweekly: [SHIPPING UPGRADE OFFER INCLUDED] Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Tuesday, December 18, 2012

biweekly/semiweekly
Technically, a biweekly meeting occurs every two weeks and a semiweekly one occurs twice a week; but so few people get this straight that your club is liable to disintegrate unless you avoid these words in the newsletter and stick with “every other week” or “twice weekly.” The same is true of “bimonthly” and “semimonthly,” though “biennial” and “semiannual” are less often confused with each other.

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Monday, December 17, 2012

e.g./i.e.: [SHIPPING UPGRADE OFFER INCLUDED] Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Monday, December 17, 2012

e.g./i.e.
When you mean “for example,” use “e.g.” It is an abbreviation for the Latin phrase exempli gratia. When you mean “that is,” use “i.e.” It is an abbreviation for the Latin phrase id est. Either can be used to clarify a preceding statement; the first by example, the second by restating the idea more clearly or expanding upon it. Because these uses are so similar, the two abbreviations are easily confused. If you just stick with good old English “for example” and “that is” you won’t give anyone a chance to sneer at you. If you insist on using the abbreviation, perhaps “example given” will remind you to use “e.g.,” while “in effect” suggests “i.e.”

Since “e.g.” indicates a partial list, it is redundant to add “etc.” at the end of a list introduced by this abbreviation.
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Sunday, December 16, 2012

dialate/dilate: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Sunday, December 16, 2012

dialate/dilate
The influence of “dial” causes many people to mispronounce and misspell “dilate” by adding an extra syllable.

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Saturday, December 15, 2012

hangar/hanger: [DEAL ENDS TODAY] Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Saturday, December 15, 2012

hangar/hanger
You park your plane in a hangar but hang up your slacks on a hanger.


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Friday, December 14, 2012

late/former: [FINAL DAYS OF DEAL—SEE BELOW] Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Friday, December 14, 2012

late/former
If you want to refer to your former husband, don’t call him your “late husband” unless he’s dead.

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Thursday, December 13, 2012

gray/grey: [FINAL DAYS OF DEAL—SEE BELOW] Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Thursday, December 13, 2012

gray/grey
“Gray” is the American spelling, “grey” the British spelling of this color/colour. When it’s part of a British name—like Tarzan’s title, “Lord Greystoke”—or part of a place name—like “Greyfriars”—it should retain its original spelling even if an American is doing the writing.

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Wednesday, December 12, 2012

preferably: [FINAL DAYS OF DEAL—SEE BELOW] Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Wednesday, December 12, 2012

preferably 
Although some US dictionaries now recognize the pronunciation of “preferably” with the first two syllables pronounced just like “prefer”—first E long and the stress on the second syllable—the standard pronunciation is “PREFFerublee,” with the first syllable stressed, just like in “preference.” The alternative pronunciation sounds awkward to some people.

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Tuesday, December 11, 2012

hanging indents: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Tuesday, December 11, 2012

hanging indents
Bibliographies are normally written using hanging indents, where the first line extends out to the left-hand margin, but the rest of the entry is indented:
Hoffman, Andrew Jay. Inventing Mark Twain: The Lives of
   Samuel Langhorne
. New York: William Morrow, 1997.
These are extremely easy to create on a word processor, but many people have never mastered the technique. Normally the left-hand margin marker at the top of the page consists of two small arrows. Drag the top one to the right to make a normal indent, the bottom one to create a hanging indent. In most programs, you have to hold down the Shift key while dragging the bottom marker to leave the top part behind. Don’t get into the habit of substituting a carriage return and a tab or spaces to create hanging indents because when your work is transferred to a different computer the result may look quite different—and wrong.

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Monday, December 10, 2012

perpetuate/perpetrate: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Monday, December 10, 2012

perpetuate/perpetrate
“Perpetrate” is something criminals do (criminals are sometimes called “perps” in slang). When you seek to continue something you are trying to “perpetuate” it.

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Sunday, December 9, 2012

foul/fowl: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Sunday, December 9, 2012

foul/fowl 
A chicken is a fowl. A poke in the eye is a foul.

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Saturday, December 8, 2012

Indian/Native American: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Saturday, December 8, 2012

Indian/Native American
Although academics have long promoted “Native American” as a more accurate label than “Indian,” most of the people so labeled continue to refer to themselves as “Indians” and prefer that term. In Canada, there is a move to refer to descendants of the original inhabitants as “First Nations” or “First Peoples,” but so far that has not spread to the US.

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Friday, December 7, 2012

intend on/intend to: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Friday, December 7, 2012

intend on/intend to
You can plan on doing something, but you intend to do it. Many people confuse these two expressions with each other and mistakenly say “intend on.” Of course if you are really determined, you can be intent on doing something.

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Thursday, December 6, 2012

caring: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Thursday, December 6, 2012

caring
Most people are comfortable referring to “caring parents,” but speaking of a “caring environment” is jargon, not acceptable in formal English. The environment may contain caring people, but it does not itself do the caring.

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Wednesday, December 5, 2012

flesh out/flush out: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Wednesday, December 5, 2012

flesh out/flush out 
To “flesh out” an idea is to give it substance, as a sculptor adds clay flesh to a skeletal armature. To “flush out” a criminal is to drive him or her out into the open. The latter term is derived from bird-hunting, in which one flushes out a covey of quail. If you are trying to develop something further, use “flesh”; but if you are trying to reveal something hitherto concealed, use “flush.”

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Tuesday, December 4, 2012

often: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Tuesday, December 4, 2012

often
People striving for sophistication often pronounce the T in this word, but true sophisticates know that the masses are correct in saying “offen.”

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Monday, December 3, 2012

Internet/intranet: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Monday, December 3, 2012

Internet/intranet 
“Internet” is the proper name of the network most people connect to, and the word needs to be capitalized. However “intranet,” a network confined to a smaller group, is a generic term that does not deserve capitalization. In advertising, we often read things like “unlimited Internet, $35.” It would be more accurate to refer in this sort of context to “Internet access.”


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Sunday, December 2, 2012

down the pipe/down the pike: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Sunday, December 2, 2012

down the pipe/down the pike 
People in the northeastern US know that a pike is a highway, but others who don’t understand the term mistakenly substitute the seemingly logical “pipe.”

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Saturday, December 1, 2012

academia: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Saturday, December 1, 2012

academia 
Although some academics are undoubtedly nuts, the usual English-language pronunciation of “academia” does not rhyme with “macadamia.” The third syllable is pronounced “deem.” Just say “academe” and add “ee-yuh.”

However, there’s an interesting possibility if you go with “ack-uh-DAME-ee-yuh”: although some people will sneer at your lack of sophistication, others will assume you’re using the Latin pronunciation and being learned.

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Friday, November 30, 2012

light-year: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Friday, November 30, 2012

light-year
“Light-year” is always a measure of distance rather than of time; in fact it is the distance that light travels in a year. “Parsec” is also a measure of distance, equaling 3.26 light-years, though the term was used incorrectly as a measure of time by Han Solo in Star Wars.

Please, Star Wars fans, don’t bother sending me elaborate explanations of why Solo’s speech makes sense; I personally heard George Lucas admit in a TV interview that it was just a mistake.

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Thursday, November 29, 2012

lense/lens: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Thursday, November 29, 2012

lense/lens
Although the variant spelling “lense” is listed in some dictionaries, the standard spelling for those little disks that focus light is “lens.”

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Wednesday, November 28, 2012

laxidaisical/lackadaisical: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Wednesday, November 28, 2012

laxidaisical/lackadaisical
“Alack!” originally meant something like “Alas!” It bore connotations of dissatisfaction or shame. “Alack the day!” meant at first “may the day be shamed in which this awful thing has happened.” Later, it came to be abbreviated “lack-a-day” and used to express mere surprise.

The expression was gradually weakened, shifting from expressions of anguish to resigned despair, to languid indifference. The end result is the modern form “lackadaisical,” which conveys a lack of enthusiasm—a casual, perfunctory way of doing things.

This final meaning suggests “laxness” to some people who then misspell the word “laxadaisical,” but this is nonstandard

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Tuesday, November 27, 2012

silicon/silicone: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Tuesday, November 27, 2012

silicon/silicone
Silicon is a chemical element, the basic stuff of which microchips are made. Silicones are plastics and other materials containing silicon, the most commonly discussed example being silicone breast implants. Less used by the general public is “silica”: an oxide of silicon.

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Monday, November 26, 2012

if not: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Monday, November 26, 2012

if not
“He was smart if not exactly brilliant.” In this sort of expression, “if not” links a weaker with a stronger word with a related meaning. Other examples: “unattractive if not downright ugly,” “reasonably priced if not exactly cheap,” “interested if not actually excited.”

But this sort of “if not” is often misused to link words that don’t form a weaker/stronger pair: “obscure if not boring,” “happy if not entertained,” “anxious if not afraid.” The linked terms in these examples do have some logical relationship, but they do not form a weaker/stronger pair.

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Sunday, November 25, 2012

lightening/lightning: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Sunday, November 25, 2012

lightening/lightning
Those bright flashes in the storm clouds indeed used to be referred to as “lightening,” later as “light’ning,” but now they are simply “lightning.”

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Saturday, November 24, 2012

protray/portray: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Saturday, November 24, 2012

protray/portray
There are a lot of words in English that begin in “pro-.” This is not one of them. When you make a portrait, you portray someone.

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Friday, November 23, 2012

whole-hardily/wholeheartedly: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Friday, November 23, 2012

whole-hardily/wholeheartedly
If you want to convey your hearty congratulations to someone, you do so not “whole-hardily” but “wholeheartedly”—with your whole heart.

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Thursday, November 22, 2012

vitae/vita: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Thursday, November 22, 2012

vitae/vita
Unless you are going to claim credit for accomplishments you had in previous incarnations, you should refer to your “vita,” not your “vitae.” All kidding aside, the AE in vitae supposedly indicates the genitive rather than the plural (that is, vitae in this case works like a possessive form to modify “curriculum”), but the derivation of vita from curriculum vitae is purely speculative (see the Oxford English Dictionary), and vitae on its own makes no sense grammatically.

Résumé, by the way, is a French word with both E’s accented. It literally means “summary.” In English one often sees it without the accents or with only the second accent, neither of which is a serious error. But if you’re trying to show how multilingual you are, remember the first accent.

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Wednesday, November 21, 2012

these ones/these: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Wednesday, November 21, 2012

these ones/these 
By itself, there’s nothing wrong with the word “ones” as a plural: “surrounded by her loved ones.” However, “this one” should not be pluralized to “these ones.” Just say “these.” The same pattern applies to “those.”

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Of skin, noses, and teeth: Paul Brians' latest blog post sorts it all out.

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Tuesday, November 20, 2012

nevermind/never mind: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Tuesday, November 20, 2012 [coupon codes included]

nevermind/never mind
The standard spelling of this phrase is as two words: never mind. The popularity of the alternative one-word form “nevermind” was certainly enhanced by its use in 1991 as the title of a bestselling Nirvana album. “Nevermind” can look immature or slangy to some readers. You can still be cool by imitating the vocabulary choice in the title of another famous album: Never Mind the Bollocks: Here’s the Sex Pistols.

In expressions like “pay him no nevermind” where the word means “attention” it’s always one word, but those expressions are both slangy and old-fashioned.






















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Monday, November 19, 2012

quote: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Monday, November 19, 2012 [coupon codes included]

quote 
A passage doesn’t become a quote (or—better—“quotation”) until you’ve quoted it. The only time to refer to a “quote” is when you are referring to someone quoting something. When referring to the original words, simply call it a “passage.”

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Sunday, November 18, 2012

sergeant of arms/sergeant at arms: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Sunday, November 18, 2012 [coupon codes included]

sergeant of arms/sergeant at arms
The officer charged with maintaining order in a meeting is the “sergeant at arms,” not “of arms.”

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Saturday, November 17, 2012

howsomever/however: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Saturday, November 17, 2012 [coupon codes included]

howsomever/however
“Howsomever” is a dialectical substitute for “however,” to be avoided in formal English.

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Friday, November 16, 2012

plus/add: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Friday, November 16, 2012 [Coupon codes included]

plus/add
Some people continue a pattern picked up in childhood of using “plus” as a verb to mean “add,” as in “You plus the 3 and the 4 and you get 7.” “Plus” is not a verb; use “add” instead.

_____________________
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Thursday, November 15, 2012

Mount Fujiyama/Fujiyama: [Coupon codes included] Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Thursday, November 15, 2012

Mount Fujiyama/Fujiyama
Yama means “mountain” in Japanese, so when you say “Mount Fujiyama” you are saying “Mount Fuji Mountain.” The Japanese usually say Fuji-san, but “Fujiyama” or “Mount Fuji” is standard in English—just be aware that both sound “foreign” to Japanese native speakers.

_____________________
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Wednesday, November 14, 2012

presently/currently: [Coupon codes included] Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Wednesday, November 14, 2012

presently/currently 
Some argue that “presently” doesn’t mean “in the present.” It means “soon.” If you want to talk about something that’s happening right now, they urge you to say it’s going on “currently.”



















_____________________
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Paul Brians' most recent blog posts are the two best, bar none.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

of ___’s: [Coupon codes included] Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Tuesday, November 13, 2012

of ___’s
Phrases combining “of” with a noun followed by S may seem redundant, since both indicate possession; nevertheless, “a friend of Karen’s” is standard English, just as “a friend of Karen” and “Karen’s friend” are.

_____________________
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Monday, November 12, 2012

Hindi/Hindu: [Coupon codes included] Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Monday, November 12, 2012

Hindi/Hindu
Hindi is a language. Hinduism is a religion, and its believers are called “Hindus.” Not all Hindus speak Hindi, and many Hindi-speakers are not Hindus.


_____________________
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Sunday, November 11, 2012

larnyx/larynx: [Coupon codes included] Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Sunday, November 11, 2012

larnyx/larynx
“Larynx” is often mispronounced and sometimes misspelled “larnyx.”

_____________________
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Saturday, November 10, 2012

instances/instants: [Coupon codes included] Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Saturday, November 10, 2012

instances/instants
Brief moments are “instants,” and examples of anything are “instances.”

_____________________
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Friday, November 9, 2012

rob/steal: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Friday, November 9, 2012

rob/steal
When you rob a bank, you steal its money. You can’t rob the money itself. The stuff taken in a robbery is always “stolen,” not “robbed.”

Thursday, November 8, 2012

exhileration/exhilaration: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Thursday, November 8, 2012

exhileration/exhilaration 
“Exhilaration” is closely related to “hilarious,” whose strongly accented A should help remind you of the correct spelling.


_____________________
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Wednesday, November 7, 2012

spiritualism/spirituality: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Wednesday, November 7, 2012

spiritualism/spirituality 
The most common meaning of “spiritualism” is belief in the possibility of communication with the spirits of the dead.

A better term for other religious beliefs and activities is “spirituality,” as in “I’m going to the ashram to explore my spirituality.”


_____________________
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Tuesday, November 6, 2012

pole/poll: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Tuesday, November 6, 2012

pole/poll 
A “pole” is a long stick. You could take a “poll” (survey or ballot) to determine whether voters want lower taxes or better education.

_____________________
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Monday, November 5, 2012

marshmellow/marshmallow: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Monday, November 5, 2012

marshmellow/marshmallow
Your s’mores may taste mellow, but that gooey confection you use in them is not “marshmellow,” but “marshmallow.” It was originally made from the root of a mallow plant which grew in marshes.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

muchly/much: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Sunday, November 4, 2012

muchly/much 
Drop the nonstandard “-ly” ending from “much,” or substitute the word “very” when appropriate.


Saturday, November 3, 2012

able to: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Saturday, November 3, 2012

able to
People are able to do things, but things are not able to be done: you should not say, “the budget shortfall was able to be solved by selling brownies.”

Friday, November 2, 2012

random: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Friday, November 2, 2012

random
Kyle can choose the shirt he’ll wear for the day at random—they’re all orange. This sort of use of “at random” to mean “by chance,” is perfectly standard. (Kyle should get some new shirts, though.)

Less widely accepted are a couple of slangy uses of the word, mostly by young people. In the first, “random” means “unknown,” “unidentified” as in “some random guy told me at the party that I reminded him of his old girlfriend.”

The other is to use random to mean “weird,” “strange,” as in “The party at Jessica’s was so random, not what I was expecting at all!” Evidently in this expression randomness is being narrowed down to unlikelihood and that is in turn being connected with strangeness, though randomness in real life is usually quite ordinary and boring.

Use of either of these two expressions in formal speech or writing is likely to annoy or confuse your audience.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

flounder/founder: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Thursday, November 1, 2012

flounder/founder
As a verb, “founder” means “to fill with water and sink.” It is also used metaphorically of various kinds of equally catastrophic failures. In contrast, to flounder is to thrash about in the water (like a flounder), struggling to stay alive. “Flounder” is also often used metaphorically to indicate various sorts of desperate struggle. If you’re sunk, you’ve foundered. If you’re still struggling, you’re floundering.


Wednesday, October 31, 2012

macabre: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Wednesday, October 31, 2012

macabre
“Macabre” is a French-derived word which in its original language has the final “ruh” sound lightly pronounced. Those who know this are likely to scorn those who pronounce the word “muh-COB.” But this latter pronunciation is very popular and blessed by some American dictionaries, and those who prefer it sometimes view the French-derived pronunciation as pretentious. It’s up to you whether you want to risk being considered ignorant or snooty.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

low and behold/lo and behold: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Tuesday, October 30, 2012

low and behold/lo and behold
The “lo” is a sort of poetic synonym for “behold.” Don’t substitute the nonsensical “low.”

Monday, October 29, 2012

freshman/freshmen: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Monday, October 29, 2012

freshman/freshmen
“Freshman” is the singular noun: “Birgitta is a freshman at Yale.” “Freshmen” is the plural: “Patricia and Patrick are freshmen at Stanford.” But the adjective is always singular: “Megan had an interesting freshman seminar on Romanesque architecture at Sarah Lawrence.”

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Friday, October 26, 2012

service/serve: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Friday, October 26, 2012

service/serve
A mechanic services your car and a stallion services a mare, but most of the time when you want to talk about the goods or services you supply, the word you want is “serve”: “Our firm serves the hotel industry.”

Thursday, October 25, 2012

proof is in the pudding/proof of the pudding is in the eating: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Thursday, October 25, 2012

proof is in the pudding/proof of the pudding is in the eating
This common truncated version of an old saying conjures up visions of poking around in your dessert looking for prizes, but “the proof of the pudding is in the eating” means that you don’t really know that your dessert has come out right until you taste it.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

mono e mono/mano a mano: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Wednesday, October 24, 2012

mono e mono/mano a mano
“Mono e mono” is an error caused by mishearing the Spanish expression mano a mano which means not “man-to-man” but “hand-to-hand,” as in hand-to-hand combat: one on one.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

being that/because: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Tuesday, October 23, 2012

being that/because
Using “being that” to mean “because” is nonstandard, as in “Being that the bank robber was fairly experienced, it was surprising that he showed the teller his ID card when she asked for it.” “Being as how” is even worse. If “because” or “since” are too simple for your taste, you could use “given that” or “in that” instead.

Monday, October 22, 2012

long story short/to make a long story short: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Monday, October 22, 2012

long story short/to make a long story short
The traditional expression “to make (or cut) a long story short” is now commonly abbreviated by omitting the first phrase: “Long story short, I missed my plane.” Although there’s a certain appeal to the notion of abbreviating an expression about abbreviation, the shorter form sounds odd to people not used to it.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

enquire/inquire: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Saturday, October 20, 2012

enquire/inquire
These are alternative spellings of the same word. “Enquire” is perhaps slightly more common in the UK, but either is acceptable in the US.

Friday, October 19, 2012

open/unlocked/unlatched: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Friday, October 19, 2012

open/unlocked/unlatched
Many people refer to doors as being “open” when they mean to say they are merely unlocked. Telling people to leave a house open may mislead them into making the place more inviting to casual intruders than you intend if you really only want it to be unlocked. And you may unnecessarily alarm the driver if you report from the back seat of a car that one of the doors is open when you mean that it is merely unlatched.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

input: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Thursday, October 18, 2012

input
Some people object to “input” as computer jargon that’s proliferated unjustifiably in the business world. Be aware that it’s not welcome in all settings; but whatever you do, don’t misspell it “imput.”

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

chauvinist/male chauvinist, sexist: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Wednesday, October 17, 2012

chauvinist/male chauvinist, sexist
Nicolas Chauvin of Rochefort became a laughingstock in Napoleon’s army for his exaggerated nationalism, and his name gave rise to the term “chauvinism,” which characterizes people who wildly overestimate the excellence and importance of their own countries while denigrating others. The word was then broadened to cover an exaggerated belief in the superiority of one’s own kind in other respects. Following this pattern, feminists in the 1970s invented the term “male chauvinist” to label people who considered women inferior to men. Unfortunately, this was the context in which many people first encountered “chauvinism” and not understanding that it had a broader meaning, dropped the “male,” thinking that “chauvinist” was a synonym for “sexist.” This misunderstanding is so widespread that only occasionally will you encounter someone who knows better, but in formal writing it is wise to avoid the abbreviated form in this restricted meaning. However, if you do intend the older meaning of the word, it’s also a good idea to make that clear from your context, for a great many of your readers will assume you are talking about sexism.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

freshman/freshmen: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Monday, October 29, 2012

freshman/freshmen
“Freshman” is the singular noun: “Birgitta is a freshman at Yale.” “Freshmen” is the plural: “Patricia and Patrick are freshmen at Stanford.” But the adjective is always singular: “Megan had an interesting freshman seminar on Romanesque architecture at Sarah Lawrence.”

disrespect: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Tuesday, October 16, 2012

disrespect
The hip-hop subculture has revived the use of “disrespect” as a verb. In the meaning “to have or show disrespect,” this usage has been long established, if unusual. However, the new street meaning of the term, ordinarily abbreviated to “dis,” is slightly but significantly different: to act disrespectfully or—more frequently—insultingly toward someone. In some neighborhoods “dissing” is defined as merely failing to show sufficient terror in the face of intimidation. In those neighborhoods, it is wise to know how the term is used; but an applicant for a job who complains about having been “disrespected” elsewhere is likely to incur further disrespect . . . and no job. Street slang has its uses, but this is one instance that has not become generally accepted.

Monday, October 15, 2012

epigram/epigraph/epitaph/epithet: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Monday, October 15, 2012

epigram/epigraph/epitaph/epithet 
An epigram is a pithy saying, usually humorous. Mark Twain was responsible for many striking, mostly cynical epigrams, such as “Always do right. That will gratify some of the people, and astonish the rest.” (Unfortunately, he was also responsible for an even more famous one that has been confusing people ever since: “Everyone is a moon, and has a dark side which he never shows to anybody.” It’s true that the moon keeps one side away from the earth, but—if you don’t count the faint glow reflected from the earth—it is not any darker than the side that faces us. In fact, over time, the side facing us is darkened slightly more often because it is occasionally eclipsed by the shadow of the earth.)

An epigraph is a brief quotation used to introduce a piece of writing or the inscription on a statue or building.

An epitaph is the inscription on a tombstone or some other tribute to a dead person.

In literature, an epithet is a term that replaces or is added to the name of a person, like “clear-eyed Athena,” in which “clear-eyed” is the epithet. You are more likely to encounter the term in its negative sense, as a term of insult or abuse: “The shoplifter hurled epithets at the guard who had arrested her.”

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Saturday, October 13, 2012

n’/’n’: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Saturday, October 13, 2012

n’/’n’
In your restaurant’s ad for “Big ’n’ Juicy Burgers,” remember that the apostrophes substitute for both omitted letters in “and”—the A and the D—so strictly speaking it’s not enough to use just one, as in “Big n’ Juicy.”

By so doing, you’ll improve on the usage of McDonald’s, which has actually created the registered trademark “Big N’ Tasty.”

Friday, October 12, 2012

hearing-impaired/deaf: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Friday, October 12, 2012

hearing-impaired/deaf 
“Hearing-impaired” is not an all-purpose substitute for “deaf” since it strongly implies some residual ability to hear.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

motherload/mother lode: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Thursday, October 11, 2012

motherload/mother lode
Although you may dig a load of ore out of a mother lode, the spelling “motherload” is a mistake which is probably influenced by people thinking it means something like “the mother of all loads.” A “lode” was originally a stream of water, but by analogy it became a vein of metal ore. Miners of precious metals dream of finding a really rich vein, which they refer to as a “mother lode,” most often spelled as two words, though you also commonly see it spelled as one.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

ethnic: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Wednesday, October 10, 2012

ethnic
It’s misleading to refer to minority groups as “ethnics” since everyone has ethnicity, even a dominant majority.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

pre-Madonna/prima donna: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Tuesday, October 9, 2012

pre-Madonna/prima donna 
The leading soprano in an opera is the prima donna (Italian for “leading lady”). As an insult, “prima donna” implies that the person under discussion is egotistical, demanding, and doesn’t work well as part of a team.

Don’t write “pre-Madonna” unless you intend to discuss the era before the singer Madonna became popular.

Monday, October 8, 2012

verbage/verbiage: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Monday, October 8, 2012

verbage/verbiage
“Verbiage” is an insulting term usually meant to disparage needlessly wordy prose. Don’t use it to mean simply “wording.” There is no such word as “verbage.”

Sunday, October 7, 2012

lend/loan: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Sunday, October 7, 2012

lend/loan
“Loan me your hat” was just as correct everywhere as “lend me your ears” until the British made “lend” the preferred verb, relegating “loan” to the thing being lent. However, as in so many cases, Americans kept the older pattern, which in its turn has influenced modern British usage so that those insisting that “loan” can only be a noun are in the minority.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

disgression/discretion: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Saturday, October 6, 2012

disgression/discretion
Discretion has to do with being discreet or with making choices. A lot of people hear it and get influenced by the quite different word “digression” which is used to label instances of people wandering off the point. The result is the nonword “disgression.” The expression is “you can do it at your own discretion.”

_________
These expressions are not cast in stone: Paul Brians looks at idiom blends in his latest blog post.

Friday, October 5, 2012

anyways/anyway: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Friday, October 5, 2012

anyways/anyway 
“Anyways” at the beginning of a sentence usually indicates that the speaker has resumed a narrative thread: “Anyways, I told Matilda that guy was a lazy bum before she ever married him.” It also occurs at the end of phrases and sentences, meaning “in any case”: “He wasn’t all that good-looking anyways.” A slightly less rustic quality can be imparted to these sentences by substituting the more formal “anyway.” Neither expression is a good idea in formal written English. The two-word phrase “any way” has many legitimate uses, however: “Is there any way to prevent the impending disaster?”

Thursday, October 4, 2012

convince/persuade: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Thursday, October 4, 2012

convince/persuade
Some people like to distinguish between these two words by insisting that you persuade people until you have convinced them; but “persuade” as a synonym for “convince” goes back at least to the 16th century. It can mean both to attempt to convince and to succeed. It is no longer common to say things like “I am persuaded that you are an illiterate fool,” but even this usage is not in itself wrong.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

one of the only/one of the few: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Wednesday, October 3, 2012

one of the only/one of the few 
Although it has recently become much more popular, the phrase “one of the only” bothers some of us in contexts in which “one of the few” would traditionally be used. Be aware that it strikes some readers as odd. “One of only three groups that played in tune” is fine, but “one of the only groups that played in tune” is more likely to cause raised eyebrows.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

God/god: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Tuesday, October 2, 2012

God/god 
When “God” is the name of a god, as in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, it needs to be capitalized like any other name (“Allah” is just Arabic for “God,” and many modern Muslims translate the name when writing in English). When it is used as a generic term, as in “He looks like a Greek god,” it is not capitalized.

If you see the word rendered “G*d” or “G-d,” it’s not an error, but a Jewish writer reverently following the Orthodox prohibition against spelling out the name of the deity in full.

Monday, October 1, 2012

downfall/drawback: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Monday, October 1, 2012

downfall/drawback 
A downfall is something that causes a person’s destruction, either literal or figurative: “expensive cars were Fred’s downfall: he spent his entire inheritance on them and went bankrupt.” A drawback is not nearly so drastic, just a flaw or problem of some kind, and is normally applied to plans and activities, not to people: “Gloria’s plan to camp on Mosquito Island had just one drawback: she had forgotten to bring her insect repellent.” Also, “downfall” should not be used when the more moderate “decline” is meant; reserve it for ruin, not to designate simple deterioration.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

catched/caught: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Sunday, September 30, 2012


catched/caught 
The standard past tense form of “catch” in modern English is not “catched,” but “caught.”

Saturday, September 29, 2012

resister/resistor: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Saturday, September 29, 2012

resister/resistor 
A resistor is part of an electrical circuit; a person who resists something is a resister.

Friday, September 28, 2012

name, pronoun: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Friday, September 28, 2012

name, pronoun
In old English ballads, it is common to follow the name of someone with a pronoun referring to the same person. For instance: “Sweet William, he died the morrow.” The extra syllable “he” helps fill out the rhythm of the line.

Though this pattern is rare in written prose it is fairly common in speech. If you say things like “Nancy, she writes for the local paper,” people are less likely to think your speech poetic than they are to think you’ve made a verbal stumble. Leave out the “she.”

The same pattern applies to common nouns followed by pronouns as in “the cops, they’ve set up a speed trap” (should be “the cops have set up a speed trap”).

Thursday, September 27, 2012

angel/angle: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Thursday, September 27, 2012.

angel/angle 
People who want to write about winged beings from Heaven often miscall them “angles.” A triangle has three angles. The Heavenly Host is made of angels. Just remember the adjectival form: “angelic.” If you pronounce it aloud you’ll be reminded that the E comes before the L.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

bourgeois: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Wednesday, September 26, 2012


bourgeois
In the original French, a bourgeois was merely a free inhabitant of a bourg, or town. Through a natural evolution it became the label for members of the property-owning class, then of the middle class. As an adjective it is used with contempt by bohemians and Marxists to label conservatives whose views are not sufficiently revolutionary. The class made up of bourgeois (which is both the singular and the plural form) is the bourgeoisie. Shaky spellers are prone to leave out the E from the middle because “eoi” is not a natural combination in English; but these words have remarkably enough retained their French pronunciation: “boorzh-WAH” and “boorzh-WAH-zee.” The feminine form, bourgeoise, is rarely encountered in English.

__________
Two recent blog posts by Paul Brians cite a couple of usage-related comic strips.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

evoke/invoke: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Tuesday, September 25, 2012.

evoke/invoke 
 “Evoke” and “invoke” are close together in meaning, and are often confused with each other.

The action of “invoking” is usually more direct and active. It originally involved calling upon or summoning up a god or spirit. An invocation calls upon whatever is invoked to do something or serve a function. “Invoke” now can also be used to mean “to appeal to, to cite”: “in his closing argument, the lawyer invoked the principle of self-defense.”

“Evoke” is usually less purposefully active, more indirect, often used to mean “suggest.” If you invoke the spirit of Picasso, you’re trying to summon his soul up from the grave; but if your paintings evoke the spirit of Picasso, it means their style reminds viewers of that artist’s work.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Sunday, September 23, 2012

payed/paid: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Sunday, September 23, 2012.

payed/paid 
If you paid attention in school, you know that the past tense of “pay” is “paid” except in the special sense that has to do with ropes: “He payed out the line to the smuggler in the rowboat.”

Saturday, September 22, 2012

unchartered/uncharted: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Saturday, September 22, 2012.

unchartered/uncharted 
“Unchartered” means “lacking a charter,” and is a word most people have little use for. “Uncharted” means “unmapped” or “unexplored,” so the expression meaning “to explore a new subject or area” is “enter uncharted territory.” Similarly, it’s uncharted regions, waters, and paths.

Friday, September 21, 2012

breeches: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Friday, September 21, 2012

breeches
The most common pronunciation of this word referring to pants rhymes with “itches.” The more phonetic spelling “britches” is perfectly acceptable.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

sensual/sensuous: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Thursday, September 20, 2012.

sensual/sensuous 
“Sensual” usually relates to physical desires and experiences and often means “sexy.” But “sensuous” is more often used for aesthetic pleasures, like “sensuous music.” The two words do overlap a good deal. The leather seats in your new car may be sensuous; but if they turn you on, they might be sensual. “Sensual” often has a slightly racy or even judgmental tone lacking in “sensuous.”

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

flair/flare: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Wednesday, September 19, 2012

flair/flare
“Flair” is conspicuous talent: “She has a flair for organization.” “Flare” is either a noun meaning flame or a verb meaning to blaze with light or to burst into anger.


Tuesday, September 18, 2012

prepositions (wrong): Entry for Tuesday, September 18, 2012.

prepositions (wrong)
One of the clearest indications that a person reads little and doesn’t hear much formal English is a failure to use the right preposition in a common expression. You aren’t ignorant to a fact; you’re ignorant of it. Things don’t happen on accident, but by accident (though they do happen “on purpose”). There are no simple rules governing preposition usage; you just have to immerse yourself in good English in order to write it naturally.


Monday, September 17, 2012

breakup/break up: Entry for Monday, September 17, 2012.

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.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

firstable/first of all: Entry for Sunday, September 16, 2012.

firstable/first of all
The odd word “firstable” seems to be based on a mishearing of the expression “first of all.”

Saturday, September 15, 2012

gild/guild: Entry for Saturday, September 15, 2012.

gild/guild
You gild an object by covering it with gold; you can join an organization like the Theatre Guild.

Friday, September 14, 2012

religion believes/religion teaches: Entry for Friday, September 14, 2012.

religion believes/religion teaches
People often write things like “Buddhism believes” when they mean to say “Buddhism teaches” or “Buddhists believe.” Religions do not believe, they are the objects of belief.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

underestimated: Entry for Thursday, September 13, 2012.

underestimated
Enthusiastic sportscasters often say of a surprisingly talented team that “they cannot be underestimated” when what they mean is “they should not be underestimated.”

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

therefor/therefore: Entry for Wednesday, September 12, 2012.

therefor/therefore 
The form without a final E is an archaic bit of legal terminology meaning “for.” The word most people want is “therefore.”

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

mumble jumbo, mumbo jumble/mumbo jumbo, mumble jumble: Entry for Tuesday, September 11, 2012.

mumble jumbo, mumbo jumble/mumbo jumbo, mumble jumble 
The original and by far the most common form of this expression referring to superstitions or needlessly complex and obscure language is “mumbo jumbo.” “Mumble jumble” is far less common, but still accepted by the Oxford English Dictionary as a variant.

But the hybrid forms “mumble jumbo” and “mumbo jumble” are just mistakes.

Monday, September 10, 2012

moral/morale: Entry for Monday, September 10, 2012.

moral/morale
If you are trying to make people behave properly, you are policing their morals; if you are just trying to keep their spirits up, you are trying to maintain their morale. “Moral” is accented on the first syllable, “morale” on the second.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

some where/somewhere: Entry for Sunday, September 9, 2012.

some where/somewhere 
“Somewhere,” like “anywhere” and “nowhere,” is always one word.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

racism: Entry for Saturday, September 8, 2012.

racism 
 The C in “racism” and “racist” is pronounced as a simple S sound. Don’t confuse it with the “SH” sound in “racial.”

Friday, September 7, 2012

envelop/envelope: Entry for Friday, September 7, 2012.

envelop/envelope
To wrap something up in a covering is to envelop it (pronounced “en-VELL-up”). The specific wrapping you put around a letter is an envelope (pronounced variously, but with the accent on the first syllable).

Thursday, September 6, 2012

in store: Entry for Thursday, September 6, 2012.

in store
Some people say things like “he is in store for a surprise on his birthday” when they mean he is in line for a surprise. The metaphor is not based on the image of going shopping in a store but of encountering something which has been stored up for you, so the correct form would be “a surprise is in store for him on his birthday.”

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

kindergarden/kindergarten: Entry for Wednesday, September 5, 2012.

kindergarden/kindergarten
The original German spelling of the word “kindergarten” is also standard in English.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

organic: Entry for Tuesday, September 4, 2012.

organic
The word “organic” is used in all sorts of contexts, often in a highly metaphorical manner; the subject here is its use in the phrase “organic foods” in claims of superior healthfulness. Various jurisdictions have various standards for “organic” food, but generally the label is applied to foods that have been grown without artificial chemicals or pesticides. Literally, of course, the term is a redundancy: all food is composed of organic chemicals (complex chemicals containing carbon). There is no such thing as an inorganic food (unless you count water and salt as foods). Natural fertilizers and pesticides may or may not be superior to artificial ones, but the proper distinction is not between organic and inorganic.


When it comes to nutrition, people tend to generalize rashly from a narrow scientific basis. After a few preservatives were revealed to have harmful effects in some consumers, many products were proudly labeled "No Preservatives!” I don’t want harmful preservatives in my food, but that label suggests to me a warning: “Deteriorates quickly! May contain mold and other kinds of rot!” Salt is a preservative.

Monday, September 3, 2012

ice tea/iced tea: Entry for Monday, September 3, 2012.

ice tea/iced tea
Iced tea is not literally made of ice, it simply is “iced”: has ice put in it.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

hisself/himself: Entry for Sunday, September 2, 2012.

hisself/himself
In some dialects people say “hisself” for “himself,” but this is nonstandard.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

prone/supine: Entry for Saturday, September 1, 2012.

prone/supine
“Prone” (face down) is often confused with “supine” (face up). “Prostrate” technically also means “face down,” but is often used to mean simply “devastated.”

Friday, August 31, 2012

mixed-up media/mixed media: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Friday, August 31, 2012

mixed-up media/mixed media 
Mixed media can be great; mixed-up media not so much.

Books are published, movies and musical recordings released, and plays and TV shows premiered.

Movies are shown, plays staged, and TV shows broadcast.

Technically recordings get deleted (from catalogs) or withdrawn rather than going out of print like books (which may also be remaindered: sold at discount, or worse—pulped). However, there is a strong tendency to use “out of print” for all kinds of media: CDs, DVDs, etc. Movies and stage shows close or end their runs, but only stage shows fold.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

dire straights/dire straits: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Thursday, August 30, 2012

dire straights/dire straits
When you are threading your way through troubles as if you were traversing a dangerously narrow passage, you are in “dire straits.” The expression and the band by that name are often transformed by those who don’t understand the word “strait” into “dire straights.”

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

signaled out/singled out: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Wednesday, August 29, 2012

signaled out/singled out
When a single individual is separated out from a larger group, usually by being especially noticed or treated differently, that individual is being “singled out.” This expression has nothing to do with signaling.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Sierra Nevada Mountains/Sierra Nevadas: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Sierra Nevada Mountains/Sierra Nevadas
Sierra is Spanish for “sawtooth mountain range,” so knowledgeable Westerners usually avoid a redundancy by simply referring to “the Sierra Nevadas” or simply “the Sierras.” Transplanted weather forecasters often get this wrong.

Some object to the familiar abbreviation “Sierras,” but this form, like “Rockies” and “Smokies” is too well established to be considered erroneous.

Monday, August 27, 2012

sense/since: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Monday, August 27, 2012

sense/since 
“Sense” is a verb meaning “feel” (“I sense you near me”) or a noun meaning “intelligence” (“have some common sense!”). Don’t use it when you need the adverb “since” (“since you went away,” “since you’re up anyway, would you please let the cat out?”).


Sunday, August 26, 2012

sci-fi/science fiction/SF: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Sunday, August 26, 2012

sci-fi/science fiction/SF 
“Sci-fi,” the widely used abbreviation for “science fiction,” is objectionable to most professional science fiction writers and scholars, and to many fans. Some of them scornfully designate alien monster movies and other trivial entertainments “sci-fi” (which they pronounce “skiffy”) to distinguish them from true science fiction. The preferred abbreviation in these circles is “SF.” The problem with this abbreviation is that to the general public “SF” means “San Francisco.” “The Sci-Fi Channel” has exacerbated the conflict over this term. If you are a reporter approaching a science fiction writer or expert you immediately mark yourself as an outsider by using the term “sci-fi.”

Saturday, August 25, 2012

mind of information/mine of information: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Saturday, August 25, 2012

mind of information/mine of information
A book, a person, or any other source stuffed with gems of useful knowledge is a mine of information, a metaphorical treasure trove of learning. The information involved may or may not be in someone’s mind.

Friday, August 24, 2012

principal/principle: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Friday, August 24, 2012

principal/principle
Generations of teachers have tried to drill this one into students’ heads by reminding them, “The principal is your pal.” Many don’t seem convinced. “Principal” is a noun and adjective referring to someone or something which is highest in rank or importance. (In a loan, the principal is the more substantial part of the money, the interest is—or should be—the lesser.) “Principle” is only a noun and has to do with law or doctrine: “The workers fought hard for the principle of collective bargaining.”

Thursday, August 23, 2012

vain/vane/vein: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Thursday, August 23, 2012

vain/vane/vein
When you have vanity you are conceited: you are vain. “You’re so vain you probably think this song is about you.” This spelling can also mean “futile,” as in “All my love’s in vain” (fruitless). Note that when Ecclesiastes says that “all is vanity” it doesn’t mean that everything is conceited, but that everything is pointless.

A vane is a blade designed to move or be moved by gases or liquid, like a weathervane.

A vein is a slender thread of something, like blood in a body or gold in a mine. It can also be a line of thought, as in “After describing his dog’s habit of chewing on the sofa, Carlos went on in the same vein for several minutes.”

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Ukraine/Ukraine: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Ukraine/Ukraine  
Some country names are preceded by an article—like “The United States” and “La France”—but most are not. Sometimes it depends on what language you are speaking: in English we call the latter country simply “France,” and “La Republica Argentina” is just “Argentina” although in the 19th century the British often referred to it as “The Argentine.”

When the region formerly known as “The Ukraine” split off from the old Soviet Union, it declared its preference for dropping the article, and the country is now properly called simply “Ukraine.”

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

saw/seen: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Tuesday, August 21, 2012

saw/seen
In standard English, it’s “I’ve seen” not “I’ve saw.” The helping verb “have” (abbreviated here to “’ve”) requires “seen.” Any time you use a helping verb to introduce it, the word you need is “seen”: “Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”

In the simple past (no helping verb), the expression is “I saw,” not “I seen.” “I’ve seen a lot of ugly cars, but when I saw that old beat-up Rambler I couldn’t believe my eyes.” Or “I saw the game on TV.”


Monday, August 20, 2012

peace/piece: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Monday, August 20, 2012

peace/piece 
It’s hard to believe many people really confuse the meaning of these words, but the spellings are frequently swapped, probably out of sheer carelessness. “Piece” has the word “pie” buried in it, which should remind you of the familiar phrase “a piece of pie.” You can meditate to find peace of mind, or you can get angry and give someone a piece of your mind. Classical scholars will note that pax is the Latin word for “peace,” suggesting the need for an A in the latter word.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Friday, August 17, 2012

laundry mat/laundromat: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Friday, August 17, 2012

laundry mat/laundromat
“Laundromat” was coined in the 1950s by analogy with “automat”—an automated self-service restaurant—to label an automated self-service laundry. People unaware of this history often mistakenly deconstruct the word into “laundry mat” or “laundrymat.”

Thursday, August 16, 2012

thusfar/thus far: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Thursday, August 16, 2012

thusfar/thus far 
Some common phrases get fused in people’s mind into single words. The phrase “thus far” is frequently misspelled “thusfar.” Hardly anybody writes “sofar” instead of “so far”—just treat “thus far” in the same way.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

shook/shaken: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Wednesday, August 15, 2012

shook/shaken
Elvis Presley couldn’t have very well sung “I’m all shaken up,” but that is the grammatically correct form. “Shook” is the simple past tense of “shake,” and quite correct in sentences like “I shook my piggy bank but all that came out was a paper clip.” But in sentences with a helping verb, you need “shaken”: “The quarterback had shaken the champagne bottle before emptying it on the coach.”

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

LOL: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Tuesday, August 14, 2012

LOL
The common Internet abbreviation “lol” (for “laughing out loud”) began as an expression of amusement or satirical contempt: “My brother-in-law thought the hollandaise sauce was gravy and poured it all over his mashed potatoes (lol).” It has become much overused, often to indicate mere surprise or emphasis with no suggestion of humor: “The boss just told us we have to redo the budget this afternoon (lol).” And some people drop it into their prose almost at random, like a verbal hiccup. It is no longer considered hip or sophisticated, and you won’t impress or entertain anyone by using it.

Note that this initialism has had two earlier meanings: “Little Old Lady” and “Lots Of Love.”

Monday, August 13, 2012

comptroller: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Monday, August 13, 2012

comptroller 
Although it is less and less often heard, the traditional pronunciation of “comptroller” is identical with “controller.” The Oxford English Dictionary, indeed, considers “comptroller” to have begun as a misspelling of “controller”—back in the 16th century.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Saturday, August 11, 2012

cache/cachet: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Saturday, August 11, 2012

cache/cachet
“Cache” comes from the French verb cacher, meaning “to hide,” and in English is pronounced exactly like the word “cash.” But reporters speaking of a cache (hidden hoard) of weapons or drugs often mispronounce it to sound like cachet—“ca-SHAY” —a word with a very different meaning: originally a seal affixed to a document, now a quality attributed to anything with authority or prestige. Rolex watches have cachet.

__________
Paul Brians' links to Candorville's take on "cache/cachet" in his latest blog post.

Friday, August 10, 2012

villian/villain: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Friday, August 10, 2012

villian/villain 
Villainous misspellings of “villain” have lain in wait to trip up unwary writers for many years.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

in route/en route: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Thursday, August 9, 2012

in route/en route
En route is a French phrase meaning “on the way,” as in “En route to the gallows, Lucky was struck by lightning.” Don’t anglicize this expression as “in route.”

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

organic: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Wednesday, August 8, 2012

organic
The word “organic” is used in all sorts of contexts, often in a highly metaphorical manner; the subject here is its use in the phrase “organic foods” in claims of superior healthfulness. Various jurisdictions have various standards for “organic” food, but generally the label is applied to foods that have been grown without artificial chemicals or pesticides. Literally, of course, the term is a redundancy: all food is composed of organic chemicals (complex chemicals containing carbon). There is no such thing as an inorganic food (unless you count water as a food). Natural fertilizers and pesticides may or may not be superior to artificial ones, but the proper distinction is not between organic and inorganic.

When it comes to nutrition, people tend to generalize rashly from a narrow scientific basis. After a few preservatives were revealed to have harmful effects in some consumers, many products were proudly labeled "No Preservatives!” I don’t want harmful preservatives in my food, but that label suggests to me a warning: “Deteriorates quickly! May contain mold and other kinds of rot!” Salt is a preservative.


Tuesday, August 7, 2012

religiosity/piety: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Tuesday, August 7, 2012

religiosity/piety
The main modern use of “religiosity” is to describe exaggerated or ostentatious showing off of one’s religiousness. A better word to label the quality of being truly religious is “piety.”


Monday, August 6, 2012

music/singing: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Monday, August 6, 2012

music/singing
After my wife—an accomplished soprano—reported indignantly that a friend of hers had stated that her church had “no music, only singing,” I began to notice the same tendency among my students to equate music strictly with instrumental music. I was told by one that “the singing interfered with the music” (i.e., the accompaniment). In the classical realm most listeners seem to prefer instrumental to vocal performances, which is odd given the distinct unpopularity of strictly instrumental popular music. People rejoice at the sound of choral works at Christmas but seldom seek them out at other times of the year. Serious music lovers rightly object to the linguistic sloppiness that denies the label “music” to works by such composers as Palestrina, Schubert, and Verdi. From the Middle Ages to the late 18th century, vocal music reigned supreme, and instrumentalists strove to achieve the prized compliment of “sounding like the human voice.” The dominance of orchestral works is a comparatively recent phenomenon.

In contrast, my students often call instrumental works “songs,” being unfamiliar with the terms “composition” and “piece.” All singing is music, but not all music is singing.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

plug-in/outlet: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Sunday, August 5, 2012

plug-in/outlet
That thing on the end of an electrical cord is a plug, which goes into the socket of the wall outlet.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

logon/visit: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Saturday, August 4, 2012

logon/visit
You log on to a Web site by entering your ID and password. If you are merely encouraging people to visit a site which has no such requirement, it is misleading to ask them to “log on” to it. News reporters often get this wrong by reporting how many people “logged on” to a particular site when they mean “visited.” “Visit” or just “go to” will do just fine.


Friday, August 3, 2012

do to/due to: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Friday, August 3, 2012

do to/due to
This expression, meaning “because of,” is often misspelled “do to.” Some authorities urge substituting “because” in formal writing; but it’s not likely to get you into trouble.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

extract revenge/exact revenge: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Thursday, August 2, 2012

extract revenge/exact revenge
The use of a rare sense of “exact” confuses people, but the traditional phrase is “exact revenge,” not the seemingly more logical “extract revenge” or “enact revenge.”

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

afterwards/afterwords: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Wednesday, August 1, 2012

afterwards/afterwords
Like “towards,” “forwards,” and “homewards,” “afterwards” ends with -wards.

“Afterwords” are sometimes the explanatory essays at the ends of books or speeches uttered at the end of plays or other works. They are made up of words.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

dual/duel: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Tuesday, July 31, 2012

dual/duel
“Dual” is an adjective describing the two-ness of something—dual carburetors, for instance. A “duel” is a formal battle intended to settle a dispute.

Monday, July 30, 2012

install/instill: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Monday, July 30, 2012

install/instill
People conjure up visions of themselves as upgradable robots when they write things like “My Aunt Tillie tried to install the spirit of giving in my heart.” The word they are searching for is “instill.” You install equipment; you instill feelings or attitudes.


Sunday, July 29, 2012

g/q: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Sunday, July 29, 2012

g/q
Lower-case “q” strongly resembles lower-case “g” in many typefaces, and the two are often confused with each other and the resulting misspelling missed in proofreading, for instance “quilt” when “guilt” is intended.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

exceptional/exceptionable: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Saturday, July 28, 2012

exceptional/exceptionable
If you take exception (object) to something, you find it “exceptionable.” The more common word is “exceptional,” applied to things that are out of the ordinary, usually in a positive way: “These are exceptional Buffalo wings.”

Friday, July 27, 2012

key: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Friday, July 27, 2012

key
“Deceptive marketing is key to their success as a company.” “Careful folding of the egg whites is key.” This very popular sort of use of “key” as an adjective by itself to mean “crucial” sets the teeth of some of us on edge. It derives from an older usage of “key” as a metaphorical noun: “The key to true happiness is an abundant supply of chocolate.” “Key” as an adjective modifying a noun is also traditional: “Key evidence in the case was mislaid by the police.”

But adjectival “key” without a noun to modify it is not so traditional. If this sort of thing bothers you (as it does me), you’ll have to grit your teeth and sigh. It’s not going away.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

verb tense: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Thursday, July 26, 2012

verb tense
If the situation being described is an ongoing or current one, the present tense is needed, even in a past-tense context: “Last week she admitted that she is really a brunette” (not “was”).

Pairs of verbs that go together logically have to be kept in the same tense. “Patricia described her trip to China and writes that the Great Wall really impressed her.” Since “described” is in the past tense, and the writing contains her descriptions, “writes” should be “wrote.”

Lots of people get into trouble with sentences that describe a hypothetical situation in the past: “If he would have packed his own suitcase, he would have noticed that the cat was in it.” That first “would have” should be a simple “had”: “If he had packed his own suitcase he would have noticed that the cat was in it.” Also, “The game would have been more fun if we had [not “would have”] won.” This sort of construction consists of two parts: a hypothetical cause in the past and its logical effect. The hypothetical cause needs to be put into the past tense: “had.” Only the effect is made conditional: “would have.” Note that in the second example above the effect is referred to before the cause.

Students summarizing the plot of a play, movie, or novel are often unfamiliar with the tradition of doing so in the present tense: “Hester embroiders an A on her dress.” Think of the events in a piece of fiction as happening whenever you read them—they exist in an eternal present even if they are narrated in the past tense. Even those who are familiar with this pattern get tripped up when they begin to discuss the historical or biographical context of a work, properly using the past tense, and forget to shift back to the present when they return to plot summary. Here’s how it’s done correctly: “Mark Twain’s days on the Mississippi were long past when he wrote Huckleberry Finn; but Huck’s love for life on the river clearly reflects his youthful experience as a steamboat pilot.” The verb “reflects” is in the present tense. Often the author’s activity in writing is also rendered in the present tense as well: “Twain depicts Pap as a disgusting drunk.” What about when you are comparing events that occur at two different times in the same narrative? You still have to stick to the present: “Tom puts Jim through a lot of unnecessary misery before telling him that he is free.” Just remember when you go from English to your history class that you have to shift back to the past tense for narrating historical events: “Napoleon lost the battle of Waterloo.”

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

sometime/some time: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Wednesday, July 25, 2012

sometime/some time
“Let’s get together sometime.” When you use the one-word form, it suggests some indefinite time in the future. “Some time” is not wrong in this sort of context, but it is required when being more specific: “Choose some time that fits in your schedule.” “Some” is an adjective here modifying “time.” The same pattern applies to “someday” (vague) and “some day” (specific).

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

footnotes/endnotes: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Tuesday, July 24, 2012

footnotes/endnotes
About the time that computers began to make the creation and printing of footnotes extremely simple and cheap, style manuals began to urge a shift away from them to endnotes printed at the ends of chapters or at the end of a book or paper rather than at the foot of the page. I happen to think this was a big mistake; but in any case, if you are using endnotes, don’t call them “footnotes.”

Monday, July 23, 2012

pundint/pundit: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Monday, July 23, 2012

pundint/pundit
“Pundit” is one of those words we get from India, like “bungalow” and “thug.” It comes from pandit, meaning “scholar,” “learned person.” The first premier of India, Jawaharlal Nehru, was often referred to respectfully as “Pandit Nehru.”

In English it has come to refer to opinionated commentators on public affairs, but it is often mispronounced and misspelled “pundint” or “pundant.”

Sunday, July 22, 2012

pedal/peddle: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Sunday, July 22, 2012

pedal/peddle
If you are delivering newspapers from a bike you can pedal it around the neighborhood (perhaps wearing “pedal-pushers”), but when you sell them from a newsstand you peddle them.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Friday, July 20, 2012

Catch-22: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Friday, July 20, 2012

Catch-22 
People familiar with Joseph Heller’s novel are irritated when they see “Catch-22” used to label any simple hitch or problem rather than this sort of circular predicament: you can’t get published until you have an agent, and you can’t get an agent until you’ve been published. “There’s a catch” will do fine for most other situations.




Thursday, July 19, 2012

evidence to/evidence of: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Thursday, July 19, 2012

evidence to/evidence of

You can provide evidence to a court, even enough evidence to convict someone; but the standard expression “is evidence of” requires “of” rather than “to” in sentences like this: “Driving through the front entrance of the Burger King is evidence of Todd’s inexperience in driving.” You can also omit the pronoun altogether by using “evidences” or “evidenced”: “his driving evidences (or evidenced) his inexperience.”

________
Paul Brians' latest blog post discusses the value of Elton John's lip service.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

o/zero: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Wednesday, July 18, 2012

o/zero
When reciting a string of numbers such as your credit card number it is common and perfectly acceptable to pronounce zero as “oh.” But when dealing with a registration code or other such string of characters which mixes letters and numbers, it is important to distinguish between the number 0 and the letter O. In most typefaces a capital O is rounder, fatter, than a zero; but that is not always the case. What looks unambiguous when you type it may come out very unclear on the other end on a computer which renders your message in a different typeface.

In technical contexts, the distinction is often made by using zeros with slashes through them, but this can create as many problems as it solves: those unfamiliar with the convention will be confused by it, numbers using such characters may not sort properly, and slashed zeros created in some fonts change to normal zeros in other fonts.

If you work for a company that requires registration codes you do a disservice to your customers and yourself by including either zeros or O’s in your codes where there is any possibility of confusion.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

song/work or composition: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Tuesday, July 17, 2012

song/work or composition
When you’re writing that cultural event report based on last night’s symphony concert, don’t call the music performed “songs.” Songs are strictly pieces of music which are sung—by singers. Instrumental numbers may be called “works,” “compositions,” or even “pieces.” Be careful, though: a single piece may have several different movements; and it would be wrong to refer to the Adagio of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata as a “piece.” It’s just a piece of a piece.

Monday, July 16, 2012

palate/palette/pallet: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Monday, July 16, 2012

palate/palette/pallet
Your “palate” is the roof of your mouth, and by extension, your sense of taste. A “palette” is the flat board an artist mixes paint on (or by extension, a range of colors). A “pallet” is either a bed (now rare) or a flat platform onto which goods are loaded.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

interesting: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Sunday, July 15, 2012

interesting
The second syllable is normally silent in “interesting.” It’s nonstandard to pronounce the “ter,” and definitely substandard to say “innaresting.”

Saturday, July 14, 2012

once and a while/once in a while: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Saturday, July 14, 2012

once and a while/once in a while
“Once and a while” is based on a mishearing of the traditional expression “once in a while.”

Friday, July 13, 2012

old wise tale/old wives’ tale: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Friday, July 13, 2012

old wise tale/old wives’ tale
An absurd superstition is an “old wives’ tale”: according to sexist tradition a story popular among credulous old ladies. It’s not an “old wise tale” or—even worse—an “old wives’ tail.”

Thursday, July 12, 2012

chalk-full/chock-full, chuck-full: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Thursday, July 12, 2012

chalk-full/chock-full, chuck-full
Originally a person or thing stuffed to the point of choking was “choke-full.” In modern speech this expression has become “chock-full,” or in less formal American English, “chuck-full.” Chalk has nothing to do with it.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

everyone/every one: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Wednesday, July 11, 2012

everyone/every one 
“Everyone” means “everybody” and is used when you want to refer to all the people in a group: “Everyone in my family likes spaghetti carbonara.”

But if you’re referring to the individuals who make up a group, then the phrase is “every one.” Examples: “God bless us, every one” (may each individual in the group be blessed). “We wish each and every one of you a Merry Christmas” (every single one of you). In the phrase “each and every one” you should never substitute “everyone.”

_______________
Paul Brians' latest blog post addresses the history of tendonitis, or at least the spelling of "tendonitis."

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

English/British: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Tuesday, July 10, 2012

English/British 
Americans tend to use the terms “British” and “English” interchangeably, but Great Britain is made up of England plus Scotland and Wales. If you are referring to this larger entity, the word you want is “British.” Britons not from England resent being referred to as “English.”


Monday, July 9, 2012

incidence/incidents/instances: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Monday, July 9, 2012

incidence/incidents/instances
These three overlap in meaning just enough to confuse a lot of people. Few of us have a need for “incidence,” which most often refers to degree or extent of the occurrence of something: “The incidence of measles in Whitman County has dropped markedly since the vaccine has been provided free.” “Incidents,” which is pronounced identically, is merely the plural of “incident,” meaning “occurrences”: “Police reported damage to three different outhouses in separate incidents last Halloween.” Instances (not “incidences”) are examples: “Semicolons are not required in the first three instances given in your query.” Incidents can be used as instances only if someone is using them as examples.


Sunday, July 8, 2012

gonna/going to: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Sunday, July 8, 2012

gonna/going to 
How do you pronounce “going to” in phrases like “going to walk the dog”? “Gonna,” right? Almost everyone uses this slurred pronunciation, but it’s not acceptable in formal writing except when you’re deliberately trying to convey the popular pronunciation. In very formal spoken contexts you might want to (not “wanna”) pronounce the phrase distinctly.


Saturday, July 7, 2012

conflicted/conflicting feelings: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Saturday, July 7, 2012

conflicted/conflicting feelings
Phrases like “conflicted feelings” or “I feel conflicted” are considered jargon by many and out of place in formal writing. Use “I have conflicting feelings” instead, or write “I feel ambivalent.”

Friday, July 6, 2012

primevil/primeval: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Friday, July 6, 2012

primevil/primeval
The existence of a music group and a comic book using the deliberately punning misspelling “Primevil” helps to further confusion about this word. Something ancient and primitive is “primeval.” The “-eval” sequence comes from a root having to do with ages, as in “medieval.” It has nothing to do with the concept of evil. The word can also be spelled “primaeval.”


Thursday, July 5, 2012

money is no option/money is no object: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Thursday, July 5, 2012

money is no option/money is no object
The expression “money is no object” means that cost is no obstacle: you’re willing to pay whatever is required to get what you want.

People who don’t understand this unusual meaning of “object” often substitute “option,” saying “money is no option,” which makes no sense at all.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

emphasize on/emphasize: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Wednesday, July 4, 2012

emphasize on/emphasize
You can place emphasis on something or you can emphasize it, but you can’t emphasize on it or stress on it, though you can place stress on it.


Tuesday, July 3, 2012

pedal to the medal/pedal to the metal: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Tuesday, July 3, 2012

pedal to the medal/pedal to the metal 

When you depress the accelerator all the way so that it presses against the metal of the floorboards you put the pedal to the metal. You get no medals for speeding.

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For the interesting history of "hazard a guess," read Paul Brians' latest blog post.

Monday, July 2, 2012

issues/problems: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Monday, July 2, 2012

issues/problems
An “issue” used to be a matter for consideration or discussion. For instance, a group might discuss the issue of how best to raise funds for its scholarship program. But people could also disagree with each other by saying “I take issue [disagree] with you on that point.”

But then mental health professionals began to talk about “child-rearing issues” and “relationship issues,“ and such. In this context the meaning of “issues” began to blur into that of “problems” and cross-pollinate with “take issue,” leading ordinary folks to begin saying things like “I have tendonitis issues” or “I have issues with telemarketing.” This very popular sort of expression is viewed with contempt or amusement by many traditionalists, who are truly appalled when it’s extended to the inanimate world: “these laptops have issues with some wireless cards.”

Sunday, July 1, 2012

gamut/gauntlet: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Sunday, July 1, 2012

gamut/gauntlet 
To “run a gamut” or “run the gamut” is to go through the whole scale or spectrum of something. To “run the gauntlet” (also “gantlet”) is to run between two lines of people who are trying to beat you. And don’t confuse “gamut” with “gambit,” a play in chess, and by extension, a tricky maneuver of any kind.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

enviroment/environment: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Saturday, June 30, 2012

enviroment/environment 
The second N in “environment” is seldom pronounced distinctly, so it’s not surprising that it is often omitted in writing. If you know the related word “environs,” it may help remind you.

Friday, June 29, 2012

individual/person: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Friday, June 29, 2012

individual/person
Law-enforcement officers often use “individual” as a simple synonym for “person” when they don’t particularly mean to stress individuality: “I pursued the individual who had fired the weapon at me for three blocks.” This sort of use of “individual” lends an oddly formal air to your writing. When “person” works as well, use it.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

say/tell: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Thursday, June 28, 2012

say/tell
You say, “Hello, Mr. Chips,” to the teacher and then tell him about what you did last summer. You can’t “tell that” except in expressions like “go tell that to your old girlfriend.”

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

doggy dog world/dog-eat-dog world: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Wednesday, June 27, 2012

doggy dog world/dog-eat-dog world 
The punning name of the popular rap star Snoop Doggy Dogg did a lot to spread this misspelling. The original image is of a cannibalistically competitive world in which people turn on each other, like dogs eating other dogs.



Tuesday, June 26, 2012

all for not/all for naught: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Tuesday, June 26, 2012

all for not/all for naught
“Naught” means “nothing,” and the phrase “all for naught” means “all for nothing.” This is often misspelled “all for not” and occasionally “all for knot.”

Monday, June 25, 2012

slog it out/slug it out: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Monday, June 25, 2012

slog it out/slug it out 
Slogging is a slow, messy business, typically tramping through sticky mud or metaphorically struggling with other difficult tasks. You might slog through a pile of receipts to do your taxes. If you are engaged in a fierce battle with an adversary, however, you slug it out, like boxers slugging each other. There is no such expression as “slog it out.”