Wednesday, July 31, 2013

allusive/elusive/illusive: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Wednesday, July 31, 2013

 When the defense lawyer alludes to his client’s poor mother, he is being allusive. When the mole keeps eluding the traps you’ve set in the garden, it’s being elusive. We also speak of matters that are difficult to understand, identify, or remember as elusive. Illusions can be illusive, but we more often refer to them as illusory.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

another words/in other words: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Tuesday, July 30, 2013

another words/in other words
When you reword a statement, you can preface it by saying “in other words.” The phrase is not “another words.”

Monday, July 29, 2013

born out of/born of: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Monday, July 29, 2013

born out of/born of
Write “My love of dance was born of my viewing old Ginger Rogers-Fred Astaire movies,” not “born out of.” The latter expression is probably substituted because of confusion with the expression “borne out” as in “My concerns about having another office party were borne out when Mr. Peabody spilled his beer into the fax machine.” The only correct (if antiquated) use of “born out of” is in the phrase “born out of wedlock.”

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Saturday, July 27, 2013

hairbrained/harebrained: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Saturday, July 27, 2013

Although “hairbrained” is common, the original word “harebrained” means “silly as a hare (rabbit)” and is preferred in writing.

Friday, July 26, 2013

drips and drabs/dribs and drabs: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Friday, July 26, 2013

drips and drabs/dribs and drabs
Something doled out in miserly amounts is provided in “dribs and drabs.” A drib is a smaller relative of a dribble. Nobody seems to be sure what a drab is in this sense, except that it’s a tiny bit larger than a drib.

Since the origin of the phrase is obscure, people try to substitute a more familiar word for the unusual word “drib” by writing “drips and drabs.” But that’s not the traditional formula.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

quotation marks: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Thursday, July 25, 2013

quotation marks 
The examples below are set off in order to avoid confusion over the use of single and double quotation marks.

There are many ways to go wrong with quotation marks. They are often used ironically:
She ran around with a bunch of “intellectuals.”
The quotation marks around “intellectuals” indicate that the writer believes that these are in fact so-called intellectuals, not real intellectuals at all. The ironic use of quotation marks is very much overdone, and is usually a sign of laziness indicating that the writer has not bothered to find the precise word or expression necessary.

Advertisers unfortunately tend to use quotation marks merely for emphasis:
The influence of the more common ironic usage tends to make the reader question whether these tomatoes are really fresh. Underlining, bold lettering, all caps—there are several less ambiguous ways to emphasize words than placing them between quotation marks.

In American usage, single quotation marks are used normally only for quoted words and phrases within quotations.
Angela had the nerve to tell me “When I saw ‘BYOB’ on your invitation, I assumed it meant ‘Bring Your Old Boyfriend’.”
British usage has traditionally been to reverse this relationship, with single quotation marks being standard and double ones being used only for quotations within quotations. (The English also call quotation marks “inverted commas,” though only the opening quotation mark is actually inverted—and flipped, as well.) However, usage in the UK is shifting toward the US pattern, (see, for instance, The Times of London); though the printing of fiction tends to adhere to the older British pattern, where US students are most likely to encounter it.

Single quotation marks are also used in linguistic, phonetic, and philosophical studies to surround words and phrases under discussion; but the common practice of using single quotation marks for short phrases and words and double ones for complete sentences is otherwise an error.
Block quotations like this should not be surrounded by any quotation marks at all. (A passage this short should not be rendered as a block quotation; you need at least three lines of verse or five lines of prose to justify a block quotation.) Normally you should leave extra space above and below a block quotation.
When quoting a long passage involving more than one paragraph, quotation marks go at the beginning of each paragraph, but at the end of only the final one. Dialogue in which the speaker changes with each paragraph has each speech enclosed in its own quotation marks.

Titles of books and other long works that might be printed as books are usually italicized (except, for some reason, in newspapers); but the titles of short poems, stories, essays, and other works that would be more commonly printed within larger works (anthologies, collections, periodicals, etc.) are enclosed in quotation marks.

There are different patterns for regulating how quotation marks relate to other punctuation. Find out which one your teacher or editor prefers and use it, or choose one of your own liking, but stick to it consistently. One widely accepted authority in America is the Chicago Manual of Style, whose guidelines are outlined below. English, Canadian, Australian and other writers in British-influenced countries should be aware that their national patterns will be quite different, and variable.

In standard American practice, commas are placed inside quotation marks:
I spent the morning reading Faulkner’s “Barn Burning,” which seemed to be about a pyromaniac.
Periods are also normally placed inside quotation marks (with the exception of terms that appear in single quotation marks in linguistic, phonetic, and philosophical studies, as mentioned earlier). Colons and semicolons, however, are preceded by quotation marks.

If the quoted matter ends with a question mark or exclamation point, it is placed inside the quotation marks:
John asked, “When’s dinner?”
But if it is the enclosing sentence which asks the question, then the question mark comes after the quotation marks:
What did she mean, John wondered, by saying “as soon as you make it”?
Fred shouted, “Look out for the bull!”
When I was subsequently gored, all Timmy said was, “This is kinda boring”!
It is unfortunately true that many standard character sets—including ASCII and basic HTML—lack true quotation marks which curl to enclose the quoted matter, substituting instead ugly “inch” or “ditto” marks. If you are writing HTML for the Web, you need to turn off the “smart quotes” feature in your word processor which curls quotation marks and apostrophes. Leaving curled quotation marks and apostrophes in text intended for the Web causes ugly gibberish which will make your writing hard to read.

If you would like to include proper curled quotation marks and apostrophes in your HTML code you can write “ (curled double open quote), ” (curled double close quote), ‘ (curled single open quote), and ’ (curled close quote). Most contemporary browsers can properly interpret these codes, though they used to cause trouble for people using older browser versions.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

currant/current: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Wednesday, July 24, 2013

“Current” is an adjective having to do with the present time. It can also be a noun naming a thing that, like time, flows: electrical current and currents of public opinion. “Currant” refers only to little fruits.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

lustful/lusty: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Tuesday, July 23, 2013

“Lusty” means “brimming with vigor and good health” or “enthusiastic.” Don’t confuse it with “lustful,” which means “filled with sexual desire.”

Monday, July 22, 2013

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Friday, July 19, 2013

arthuritis/arthritis: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Friday, July 19, 2013

If there were such a word as “arthuritis” it might mean the overwhelming desire to pull swords out of stones; but that ache in your joints is caused by “arthritis.”

Thursday, July 18, 2013

CD-ROM disk/CD-ROM: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Thursday, July 18, 2013

“CD-ROM” stands for “compact disc, read-only memory,” so adding another “disc” or “disk” is redundant. The same goes for “DVD” (from “Digital Video Disc” or “Digital Versatile Disc”—there are non-video versions). Don’t say “give me that DVD disk,” just “give me that DVD.”

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

formally/formerly: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Wednesday, July 17, 2013

These two are often mixed up in speech. If you are doing something in a formal manner, you are behaving formally; but if you previously behaved differently, you did so formerly.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

pronounciation/pronunciation: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Tuesday, July 16, 2013

“Pronounce” is the verb, but the O is omitted for the noun: “pronunciation.” This mistake ranks right up there in incongruity with “writting.”

Monday, July 15, 2013

zeroscape/xeriscape: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Monday, July 15, 2013

If you nuke your front lawn I suppose you might call it a “zeroscape,” but the term for an arid-climate garden requiring little or no watering is “xeriscape” (-xeri is a Greek root meaning “dry”).

Sunday, July 14, 2013

whacky/wacky: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Sunday, July 14, 2013

Although the original spelling of this word meaning “crazy” was “whacky,” the current dominant spelling is “wacky.” If you use the older form, some readers will think you’ve made a spelling error.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

revue/review: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Saturday, July 13, 2013

You can attend a musical revue in a theatre, but when you write up your reactions for a newspaper, you’re writing a review.

Friday, July 12, 2013

nauseated/nauseous: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Friday, July 12, 2013

Many people say, when sick to their stomachs, that they feel “nauseous” (pronounced “NOSH-uss” or “NOZH-uss”) but traditionalists insist that this word should be used to describe something that makes you want to throw up: something nauseating. They hear you as saying that you make people want to vomit, and it tempers their sympathy for your plight. Better to say you are “nauseated,” or simply that you feel like throwing up.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Frankenstein: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Thursday, July 11, 2013

“Frankenstein” is the name of the scientist who creates the monster in Mary Shelley’s novel. The monster itself has no name, but is referred to popularly as “Frankenstein’s monster.”

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

ascared/scared: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The misspelling “ascared” is probably influenced by the spelling of the synonym “afraid,” but the standard English word is “scared.”

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

bad/badly: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Tuesday, July 9, 2013

“I feel bad” is standard English, as in “This t-shirt smells bad” (not “badly”). “I feel badly” is an incorrect hyper-correction by people who think they know better than the masses. People who are happy can correctly say they feel good, but if they say they feel well, we know they mean to say they’re healthy. However, you may impress your beloved more if you say “I need you really badly” rather than the less correct “I need you real bad.”

Monday, July 8, 2013

carat/caret/carrot/karat: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Monday, July 8, 2013

“Carrots” are those crunchy orange vegetables Bugs Bunny is so fond of, but this spelling gets misused for less familiar words which are pronounced the same but have very different meanings. Precious stones like diamonds are weighed in carats. The same word is used to express the proportion of pure gold in an alloy, though in this usage it is sometimes spelled “karat” (hence the abbreviation “20K gold”). A caret is a proofreader’s mark showing where something needs to be inserted, shaped like a tiny pitched roof. It looks rather like a French circumflex, but is usually distinct from it on modern computer keyboards. Carets are extensively used in computer programming. Just remember, if you can’t eat it, it’s not a carrot.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

crick/creek: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Sunday, July 7, 2013

The dialectical pronunciation and spelling of “creek” as “crick” is very popular in some parts of the US, but the standard pronunciation of the word is the same as that of “creak.”

Saturday, July 6, 2013

insight/incite: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Saturday, July 6, 2013


An insight is something you have: an understanding of something, a bright idea about something.

To incite is to do something: to stimulate some action or other to be taken. You can never have an incite.

Friday, July 5, 2013

pray/prey: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Friday, July 5, 2013

If you want a miracle, pray to God. If you’re a criminal, you prey on your victims.

Incidentally, it’s “praying mantis,” not “preying mantis.” The insect holds its forefeet in a position suggesting prayer.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

-es: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Thursday, July 4, 2013

Latin-derived terms whose singular form ends in “-is” (like “thesis”) and whose plural forms end in “-es” (like “theses”) have the final syllables of their plural forms pronounced “eez.” This pattern causes some people to do the same with other words without a Latin singular “-is” form, like “processes” whose last syllable should properly be pronounced like “says.”

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

pore/pour: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Wednesday, July 3, 2013

When used as a verb, “pore” has the unusual sense of “scrutinize,” as in “She pored over her receipts.” If it’s coffee or rain, the stuff pours.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

video/film: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Many of us can remember when portable transistorized radios were ignorantly called “transistors.” We have a tendency to abbreviate the names of various sorts of electronic technology (see “stereo” and “satellite”), often in the process confusing the medium with the content. Video is the electronic reproduction of images and applies to broadcast and cable television, prerecorded videocassette recordings (made on a videocassette recorder, or VCR), and related technologies. MTV appropriated this broad term for a very narrow meaning: “videotaped productions of visual material meant to accompany popular music recordings.” This is now what most people mean when they speak of “a video,” unless they are “renting a video,” in which case they mean a videocassette or DVD recording of a film. One also hears people referring to theatrical films that they happened to have viewed in videotaped reproduction as “videos.” This is simply wrong. A film is a film (or movie), whether it is projected on a screen from 35 or 70 mm film or broadcast via the NTSC, SECAM or PAL standard. Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane is not now and never will be a “video.”

Monday, July 1, 2013

acrosst/accrossed/across: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Monday, July 1, 2013

In some dialects, “acrosst” is a common misspelling of “across.” Also, the chicken may have crossed the road, but did so by walking across it.