Tuesday, June 30, 2015

shrunk/shrank: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Tuesday, June 30, 2015

shrunk/shrank
The simple past tense form of “shrink” is “shrank” and the past participle is “shrunk”; it should be “Honey, I Shrank the Kids,” not “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids.” (Thanks a lot, Disney.)

“Honey, I’ve shrunk the kids” would be standard, and also grammatically acceptable is “Honey, I’ve shrunken the kids” (though deplorable from a child-rearing point of view).



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Monday, June 29, 2015

light-year: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Monday, June 29, 2015

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, as director George Lucas has since admitted.

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Sunday, June 28, 2015

coarse/course: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Sunday, June 28, 2015

coarse/course
“Coarse” is always an adjective meaning “rough, crude.” Unfortunately, this spelling is often mistakenly used for a quite different word, “course,” which can be either a verb or a noun (with several different meanings).



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Saturday, June 27, 2015

caramel/Carmel: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Saturday, June 27, 2015

caramel/Carmel
Take Highway 1 south from Monterey to reach the charming seaside town of Carmel, of which Clint Eastwood was formerly mayor. Dissolve sugar in a little water and cook it down until the sugar turns brown to create caramel. A nationwide chain uses the illiterate spelling “Karmelkorn™,” which helps to perpetuate the confusion between these two words.


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Friday, June 26, 2015

forward/forwards/foreword: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Friday, June 26, 2015

forward/forwards/foreword
Although some style books prefer “forward” and “toward” to “forwards” and “towards,” none of these forms is really incorrect, though the forms without the final S are perhaps a smidgen more formal. The same generally applies to “backward” and “backwards.” There are a few expressions in which only one of the two forms works: step forward, forward motion, a backward child. The spelling “foreword” applies exclusively to the introductory matter in a book.

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Thursday, June 25, 2015

soup du jour of the day/soup of the day: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Thursday, June 25, 2015

soup du jour of the day/soup of the day
Soupe du jour (note the E on the end of soupe) means “soup of the day.” If you’re going to use French to be pretentious on a menu, it’s important to learn the meaning of the words you’re using. Often what is offered is potage, anyway. Keep it simple, keep it in English, and you can’t go wrong.

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Wednesday, June 24, 2015

hanged/hung: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Wednesday, June 24, 2015

hanged/hung
Originally these words were pretty much interchangeable, but “hanged” eventually came to be used pretty exclusively to mean “executed by hanging.” Does nervousness about the existence of an indelicate adjectival form of the word prompt people to avoid the correct word in such sentences as “Lady Wrothley saw to it that her ancestors’ portraits were properly hung”? Nevertheless, “hung” is correct except when capital punishment is being imposed or someone commits suicide.




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Tuesday, June 23, 2015

about: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Tuesday, June 23, 2015

about
“This isn’t about you.” What a great rebuke! But conservatives sniff at this sort of abstract use of “about,” as in “I’m all about good taste” or “successful truffle-making is about temperature control”; so it’s better to avoid it in very formal English.

 
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Monday, June 22, 2015

concerted effort: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Monday, June 22, 2015

concerted effort
One cannot make a “concerted effort” all by one’s self. To work “in concert” is to work together with others. The prefix “con-” means “with.” One can, however, make a concentrated effort.


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Sunday, June 21, 2015

copywrite/copyright: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Sunday, June 21, 2015

copywrite/copyright
You can copyright writing, but you can also copyright a photograph or song. The word has to do with securing rights.

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Saturday, June 20, 2015

beckon call/beck and call: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Saturday, June 20, 2015

beckon call/beck and call
This is a fine example of what linguists call “popular etymology.” People don’t understand the origins of a word or expression and make one up based on what seems logical to them. “Beck” is just an old, shortened version of “beckon.” If you are at people’s beck and call it means they can summon you whenever they want: either by gesture (beck) or speech (call).

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Friday, June 19, 2015

viola/voila: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Friday, June 19, 2015

viola/voila
A viola is a flower or a musical instrument. The expression which means “behold!” is voila. It comes from a French expression literally meaning “look there!” In French it is spelled with a grave accent over the A, as voilĂ , but when it was adopted into English, it lost its accent. Such barbarous misspellings as “vwala” are even worse, caused by the reluctance of English speakers to believe that OI can represent the sound “wah,” as it usually does in French.

“Wallah” is a Hindi word for a worker, and “Walla” is half of the name of the Washington State city of Walla Walla.


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Thursday, June 18, 2015

UFO: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Thursday, June 18, 2015

UFO
“UFO” stands for “unidentified flying object,” so if you’re sure that a silvery disk is an alien spacecraft, there’s no point in calling it a “UFO.” I love the sign in a Seattle bookstore labeling the alien-invasion section: “Incorrectly Identified Flying Objects.”

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Wednesday, June 17, 2015

baited breath/bated breath: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Wednesday, June 17, 2015

baited breath/bated breath
Although the odor of the chocolate truffle you just ate may be irresistible bait to your beloved, the proper expression is “bated breath.” “Bated” here means “held, abated.” You do something with “bated breath” when you’re so tense you’re holding your breath.

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Tuesday, June 16, 2015

vunerable/vulnerable: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Tuesday, June 16, 2015

vunerable/vulnerable
“Vulnerable” is often mispronounced, and sometimes misspelled, without its first L.

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Don’t take a pass on Paul Brians’ latest blog post.

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Monday, June 15, 2015

wash: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Monday, June 15, 2015

wash
In my mother’s Oklahoma dialect, “wash” was pronounced “warsh,” and I was embarrassed to discover in school that the inclusion of the superfluous R sound was considered ignorant. This has made me all the more sensitive now that I live in Washington to the mispronunciation “Warshington.” Some people tell you that after you “warsh” you should “wrench” (“rinse”).


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Sunday, June 14, 2015

gig/jig: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Sunday, June 14, 2015

gig/jig
“The jig is up” is an old slang expression meaning “the game is over—we’re caught.” A musician’s job is a gig.


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Saturday, June 13, 2015

bemuse/amuse: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Saturday, June 13, 2015

bemuse/amuse
When you bemuse someone, you confuse them, and not necessarily in an entertaining way. Don’t confuse this word with “amuse.”

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Friday, June 12, 2015

grisly/grizzly: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Friday, June 12, 2015

grisly/grizzly
“Grisly” means “horrible”; a “grizzly” is a bear. “The grizzly left behind the grisly remains of his victim.” “Grizzled” means “having gray hairs,” not to be confused with “gristly,” full of gristle.


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Thursday, June 11, 2015

duck tape/duct tape: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Thursday, June 11, 2015

duck tape/duct tape
A commercial firm has named its product “Duck Tape,” harking back to the original name for an adhesive tape made of “duck” linen or cotton (a sort of a light canvas fabric).

It is now usually called “duct tape,” for its supposed use in connecting ventilation and other ducts (which match its current silver color). Note that modern building codes consider duct tape unsafe for sealing ducts, particularly those that convey hot air.


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Wednesday, June 10, 2015

thankyou/thank you, thank-you: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Wednesday, June 10, 2015

thankyou/thank you, thank-you 
When you are grateful to someone, tell them “thank you.” Thanks are often called “thank-yous,” and you can write “thank-you notes.” But the expression should never be written as a single unhyphenated word.


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Tuesday, June 9, 2015

two to tangle/two to tango: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Tuesday, June 9, 2015

two to tangle/two to tango
A 1952 pop song popularized the phrase “it takes two to tango”; and it was quickly applied to everything that required two parties, from romance to fighting. Later, people baffled by hearing the phrase used of conflicts, imagined that the proper word must be “tangle.” Perhaps if they had remembered the fierce choreography of Parisian apache dancing they would not have been so confused. “It takes two to tangle” will seem the normal phrase to some people, a clever variation to a few, and an embarrassing mistake to many people you might want to impress.


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Monday, June 8, 2015

pause for concern/cause for concern, pause: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Monday, June 8, 2015

pause for concern/cause for concern, pause
Something worrisome can give you pause, or cause for concern. But some people confuse these two expressions and say they have “pause for concern.”



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Sunday, June 7, 2015

languish/luxuriate: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Sunday, June 7, 2015

languish/luxuriate
To languish is to wilt, pine away, become feeble. It always indicates an undesirable state. If you’re looking for a nice long soak in the tub, what you want is not to languish in the bath but to luxuriate in it.

The word “languid” (drooping, listless) often occurs in contexts that might lead people to think of relaxation. Even more confusing, the related word “languorous” does describe dreamy self-indulgent relaxation. No wonder people mistakenly think they want to “languish” in the bath.





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Saturday, June 6, 2015

base/bass: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Saturday, June 6, 2015

base/bass 
Like Big Mouth Billy Bass, things musical are usually “bass”: bass guitars, bass drums, bass clefs. Don’t use the more common word “base” in such contexts.

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Friday, June 5, 2015

sulking/skulking: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Friday, June 5, 2015

sulking/skulking
That guy sneaking furtively around the neighborhood is skulking around; that teenager brooding in his bedroom because he got grounded is sulking. “Sulking around” is not a traditional phrase.


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“Disk” or “disc”? If you said “disc,” Paul Brians’ latest blog post is for you.

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Thursday, June 4, 2015

kick-start/jump-start: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Thursday, June 4, 2015

kick-start/jump-start
You revive a dead battery by jolting it to life with a jumper cable: an extraordinary measure used in an emergency. So if you hope to stimulate a foundering economy, you want to jump-start it. Kick-starting is an old-fashioned and difficult way of starting a motorcycle, so it is an inappropriate label for a shortcut method of getting something going.

 
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Wednesday, June 3, 2015

land lover/landlubber: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Wednesday, June 3, 2015

land lover/landlubber
“Lubber” is an old term for a clumsy person, and beginning in the 18th century sailors used it to describe a person who was not a good seaman. So the pirate expression of scorn for those who don’t go to sea is not “land lover” but “landlubber.”


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Tuesday, June 2, 2015

under weigh/under way: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Tuesday, June 2, 2015

under weigh/under way 
The original expression for getting a boat moving has nothing to do with weighing anchor and is “getting under way,” but so many sophisticated writers get this wrong that you’re not likely to get into trouble if you imitate them.

When “underway” is used elsewhere as an adjective or adverb, by far the most common spelling is as a single word, as in “our plans are underway”; though some authorities argue that the adverbial form should be spelled as two words: “under way.”


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Monday, June 1, 2015

cortage/cortege: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Monday, June 1, 2015

cortage/cortege
“Cortage” is a common misspelling of “cortege.”
 
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