Friday, October 31, 2014

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 30, 2014

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

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

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

Monday, October 27, 2014

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

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

Friday, October 24, 2014

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

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

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

Thursday, October 23, 2014

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

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

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

wont/won’t: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Wednesday, October 22, 2014

wont/won’t
People often leave the apostrophe out of “won’t,” meaning “will not.” “Wont” is a completely different and rarely used word meaning “habitual custom.” Perhaps people are reluctant to believe this is a contraction because it doesn’t make obvious sense like “cannot” being contracted to “can’t.” The Oxford English Dictionary suggests that “won’t” is a contraction of a nonstandard form: “woll not.”

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Monday, October 20, 2014

adultry/adultery: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Monday, October 20, 2014

adultry/adultery
“Adultery” is often misspelled “adultry,” as if it were something every adult should try. This spelling error is likely to get you snickered at. The term does not refer to all sorts of illicit sex: at least one of the partners involved has to be married for the relationship to be adulterous.

Friday, October 17, 2014

wonderkind/wunderkind: The Weekend Edition—Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Friday–Sunday, October 17–19, 2014

wonderkind/wunderkind
We borrowed the term “wunderkind,” meaning “child prodigy,” from the Germans. We don’t capitalize it the way they do, but we use the same spelling. When writing in English, don’t half-translate it as “wonderkind.”

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The Week's End Extra from the Archives: "Notes on the Third Edition: On Chocolate Truffles" (November 3, 2013).

Thursday, October 16, 2014

reoccurring/recurring: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Thursday, October 16, 2014

reoccurring/recurring
It might seem logical to form this word from “occurring” by simply adding a RE- prefix—but the most common form is “recurring.” The root form is “recur” rather than “reoccur.” Although the forms with an O are legitimate, many style guides recommend against them. For some reason “recurrent” is seldom transformed into “reoccurrent.”

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

wench/winch: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Wednesday, October 15, 2014

wench/winch
“Wench” began as a general term for a girl or woman, and over the centuries acquired a variety of meanings, including female servant, lower-class female, and prostitute. It is mostly used today as a jokingly affectionate archaic allusion to Shakespearean ribaldry.

The hoisting or hauling mechanism attached to a tow truck is a winch (and it’s not on a “toe truck”).

If a woman can lift your car, she’s not a wench—she’s an Amazon!

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

no such a thing/no such thing: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Tuesday, October 14, 2014

no such a thing/no such thing
Some say “there’s no such thing as bad publicity,” but in phrases like this it’s much less common to insert an “a” after “such” so that the phrase becomes “no such a thing.”

This variation followed by a phrase beginning with “as” will probably not be noticed in most contexts, but it tends to sound more obviously nonstandard when the phrase stands by itself as a simple negation: “Eric told me the grocery store was handing out free steaks. No such a thing.” It sounds better to most people to say instead “no such thing.”

Monday, October 13, 2014

Colombia/Columbia: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Monday, October 13, 2014

Colombia/Columbia
Although both are named after Columbus, the US capital is the District of Columbia, whereas the South American country is Colombia.

Friday, October 10, 2014

added bonus/bonus: The Weekend Edition—Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Friday–Sunday, October 10–12, 2014

added bonus/bonus
People who avoid redundancies tend to object to the extremely popular phrase “added bonus” because a bonus is already something additional. Speakers who use this phrase probably think of “bonus” as meaning something vaguely like “benefit.” The phrase is so common that it’s unlikely to cause you real problems.

More people frown on the similarly redundant “and plus”: “I was fired, and plus I never got my last paycheck.” Just say “and” or “plus.”

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The Week's End Extra from the Archives: "The third way: apostophes as visual separators" (May 11, 2011).

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Mongoloid: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Thursday, October 9, 2014

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

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

permiscuous/promiscuous: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Wednesday, October 8, 2014

permiscuous/promiscuous
The influence of “permissiveness” may influence this misspelling of “promiscuous.”

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

phoney/phony: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Tuesday, October 7, 2014

phoney/phony
The usual spelling in the US is “phony”; the usual spelling in the UK and in some countries influenced by it is “phoney.”


Monday, October 6, 2014

women/woman: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Monday, October 6, 2014

women/woman
The singular “woman” probably gets mixed up with the plural “women” because although both are spelled with an O in the first syllable, only the pronunciation of the O really differentiates them. Just remember that this word is treated no differently than “man” (one person) and “men” (more than one person). A woman is a woman—never a women.

Friday, October 3, 2014

timber/timbre: The Weekend Edition—Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Friday–Sunday, October 3–5, 2014

timber/timbre
You can build a house out of timber, but that quality which distinguishes the sound produced by one instrument or voice from others is timbre, usually pronounced “TAM-bruh,” so the common expression is “vocal timbre.”

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The Week's End Extra from the Archives: "Cartel Flip-Flop" (June 19, 2012).

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

almost: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Wednesday, October 1, 2014

almost
Like “only,” “almost” must come immediately before the word or phrase it modifies: “She almost gave a million dollars to the museum” means something quite different from, “She gave almost a million dollars to the museum.” Right? So you shouldn’t write, “There was almost a riotous reaction when the will was read” when what you mean is, “There was an almost riotous reaction.”