Wednesday, October 18, 2017

This Week: Book Sale! Plus, More on the Language of Politics on the Podcast + oppress/repress

oppress/repress
Dictators commonly oppress their citizens and repress dissent, but these words don’t mean exactly the same thing. “Repress” just means “keep under control.” Sometimes repression is a good thing: “During the job interview, repress the temptation to tell Mr. Brown that he has toilet paper stuck to his shoe.” Oppression is always bad, and implies serious persecution.



____________ 

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

This Week: More on the Language of Politics on the Podcast + Democrat Party/Democratic Party

Democrat Party/Democratic Party
Certain Republican members of Congress have played the childish game in recent years of referring to the opposition as the “Democrat Party,” hoping to imply that Democrats are not truly democratic. They succeed only in making themselves sound ignorant, and so will you if you imitate them. The name is “Democratic Party.” After all, we don’t say “Republic Party.”



____________ 

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

This Week: More on the Language of Politics on the Podcast + grow

grow
We used to grow our hair long or grow tomatoes in the yard, but now we are being urged to “grow the economy” or “grow your investments.” Business and government speakers have extended this usage widely, but it irritates traditionalists. Use “build,” “increase,” “expand,” “develop,” or “cause to grow” instead in formal writing.
____________ 

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

This Week: Finishing Up on the Language of Health Care on the Podcast + sick/sic

sick/sic
The command given to a dog, “sic ’em,” derives from the word “seek.” The 1992 punk rock album titled Sick ’Em has helped popularize the common misspelling of this phrase. Unless you want to tell how you incited your pit bull to vomit on someone’s shoes, don’t write “sick ’em” or “sick the dog.”

The standard spelling of the “-ing” form of the word is “siccing.”

In a different context, the Latin word sic (“thus”) inserted into a quotation is an editorial comment calling attention to a misspelling or other error in the original which you do not want to be blamed for but are accurately reproducing: “She acted like a real pre-Madonna [sic].” When commenting on someone else’s faulty writing, you really want to avoid misspelling this word as sick.

Although it’s occasionally useful in preventing misunderstanding, sic is usually just a way of being snotty about someone else’s mistake, largely replaced now by “lol.” Sometimes it’s appropriate to correct the mistakes in writing you’re quoting; and when errors abound, you needn’t mark each one with a sic—your readers will notice.


 ____________ 

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

This Week: More Language of Health Care on the Podcast + able to

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.


 ____________ 

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

This Week: More Language of Health Care on the Podcast + realize/realise

realize/realise
“Realize” is the dominant spelling in the US, and “realise” in the UK. Spelling checkers often try to enforce these patterns by labeling the other spelling as an error, but it is good to know that most dictionaries list these as acceptable spelling variants.

 ____________ 

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

This Week: More Language of Health Care on the Podcast + tradegy/tragedy

tradegy/tragedy
Not only do people often misspell “tragedy” as “tradegy,” they mispronounce it that way too. Just remember that the adjective is “tragic” to recall that it’s the G that comes after the A. Also common is the misspelling “tradgedy.”

 ____________ 

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

This Week: More Language of Health Care on the Podcast + boost in the arm/shot in the arm

boost in the arm/shot in the arm
Early in the 20th century it used to be common for people feeling a bit run-down to go to the doctor to get injected with a stimulant. By 1916 this remedy had led to a saying according to which a positive stimulation of almost any kind could be called “a real shot in the arm.”
We still use this expression in a wide variety of ways. It can refer to an increase of business in a company, to a stimulus administered to the economy, to the hopes of a sports franchise or a politician running for office.

A simpler way of expressing the idea is to refer to a stimulus as a “boost.” Examples: “the flowers on my birthday gave my spirits a real boost,” “the large donation by the pharmaceutical company gave his campaign a major boost,” “the President is looking for ways to boost the economy.”
It’s easy to understand how these two expressions came to be confused with each other in the popular form “a boost in the arm.” After all, we go to the doctor for a booster shot. But the boost in this expression is a shove from underneath to raise the whole body, not a needle in the biceps. It makes more sense to stick with the traditional expression “a shot in the arm” or to simply use “boost.”


 ____________ 

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

This Week: The Language of Health Care on the Podcast + anecdote/antidote

anecdote/antidote
A humorist relates “anecdotes.” The doctor prescribes “antidotes” for children who have swallowed poison. Laughter may be the best medicine, but that’s no reason to confuse these two with each other.

 
 ____________ 

https://commonerrorspodcast.wordpress.com/

On the podcast this week, we discuss health care terms.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

This Week: Smart Talk on the Podcast + genius/brilliant + Paul Brians' latest blog post

genius/brilliant
In standard English “genius” is a noun, but not an adjective. In slang, people often say things like “Telling Mom your English teacher is requiring the class to get HBO was genius!” The standard way to say this is “was brilliant.”



____________ 

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

This Week: More Stupid Adjectives on the Podcast + gull/gall

gull/gall
“How could you have the nerve, the chutzpah, the effrontery, the unmitigated gall to claim you didn’t cheat because it was your girlfriend who copied from the Web when she wrote your paper for you?”

This sense of “gall” has nothing to do with seabirds, so don’t say “How could you have the gull?”



____________ 

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

This Week: Stupid Adjectives on the Podcast + French dip with au jus/French dip

French dip with au jus/French dip
This diner classic consists of sliced roast beef on a more or less firm bun, with a side dish of broth in which to dip it. Au jus means “with broth,” so adding “with” to “au jus” is redundant. In fancier restaurants, items are listed entirely in French with the English translation underneath:

Tête de cochon avec ses tripes farcies
Pig’s head stuffed with tripe
Mixing the languages is hazardous if you don’t know what the original means. “With au jus broth” is also seen from time to time. People generally know what a French dip sandwich is, and they’ll see the broth when it comes. Why not just call it a “French dip”?


____________ 

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

This Week: Oafs, Goofs, and Goons on the Podcast + ignorant/stupid

ignorant/stupid
A person can be ignorant (not knowing some fact or idea) without being stupid (incapable of learning because of a basic mental deficiency). And those who say, “That’s an ignorant idea,” when they mean “stupid idea” are expressing their own ignorance.


____________ 

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

This Week: More Insulting Language on the Podcast + disrespect

disrespect
The hip-hop subculture 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.


____________ 

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

This Week: Idiots and Imbeciles on the Podcast + asocial/antisocial

asocial/antisocial
Someone who doesn’t enjoy socializing at parties might be described as either “asocial” or “antisocial,’ but “asocial” is too mild a term to describe someone who commits an antisocial act like planting a bomb. “Asocial” suggests indifference to or separation from society, whereas “antisocial” more often suggests active hostility toward society.





____________ 

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

This Week: Back to the Archives for a Conversation with Mr. Gradgind on the Podcast + beginning of time

beginning of time
Stephen Hawking writes about the beginning of time, but few other people do. People who write “from the beginning of time” or “since time began” are usually being lazy. Their grasp of history is vague, so they resort to these broad, sweeping phrases. Almost never is this usage literally accurate: people have not fallen in love since time began, for instance, because people arrived relatively late on the scene in the cosmic scheme of things. When I visited Ferrara several years ago I was interested to see that the whole population of the old city seemed to use bicycles for transportation, cars being banned from the central area. I asked how long this had been the custom and was told “We’ve ridden bicycles for centuries.” Since the bicycle was invented only in the 1890s, I strongly doubted this (no, Leonardo da Vinci did not invent the bicycle—he just drew a picture of what one might look like—and some people think that picture is a modern forgery). If you really don’t know the appropriate period from which your subject dates, you could substitute a less silly but still vague phrase such as “for many years,” or “for centuries”; but it’s better simply to avoid historical statements if you don’t know your history.


____________ 

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

This Week: Reviving "When Is a Rose Not a Rose?" on the Podcast + parallel/symbol

parallel/symbol
Beginning literature students often write sentences like this: “He uses the rose as a parallel for her beauty” when they mean “a symbol of her beauty.” If you are taking a literature class, it’s good to master the distinctions between several terms relating to symbolism. An eagle clutching a bundle of arrows and an olive branch is a symbol of the US government in war and peace.

Students often misuse the word “analogy” in the same way. An analogy has to be specifically spelled out by the writer, not simply referred to: “My mother’s attempts to find her keys in the morning were like early expeditions to the South Pole: prolonged and mostly futile.”

A metaphor is a kind of symbolism common in literature. When Shakespeare writes “That time of year thou mayst in me behold/When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang/Upon those boughs which shake against the cold” he is comparing his aging self to a tree in late autumn, perhaps even specifically suggesting that he is going bald by referring to the tree shedding its leaves. This autumnal tree is a metaphor for the human aging process.

A simile resembles a metaphor except that “like” or “as” or something similar is used to make the comparison explicitly. Byron admires a dark-haired woman by saying of her, “She walks in beauty, like the night/Of cloudless climes and starry skies.” Her darkness is said to be like that of the night.

An allegory is a symbolic narrative in which characters may stand for abstract ideas, and the story conveys a philosophy. Allegories are no longer popular, but the most commonly read one in school is Dante’s Divine Comedy in which the poet Virgil is a symbol for human wisdom, Dante’s beloved Beatrice is a symbol of divine grace, and the whole poem tries to teach the reader how to avoid damnation. Aslan in C. S. Lewis’ Narnia tales is an allegorical figure meant to symbolize Christ: dying to save others and rising again (aslan is Turkish for “lion”).


____________ 

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

This Week: Reviving "Steam" on the Podcast + ancestor/descendant

ancestor/descendant
When Albus Dumbledore said that Lord Voldemort was “the last remaining ancestor of Salazar Slytherin,” more than one person noted that he had made a serious verbal bumble; and in later printings of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets author J. K. Rowling corrected that to “last remaining descendant.” People surprisingly often confuse these two terms with each other. Your great-grandmother is your ancestor; you are her descendant.


____________ 

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

This Week: Troubleshooting Photography on the Podcast + shined/shone

shined/shone
The transitive form of the verb “shine” is “shined.” If the context describes something shining on something else, use “shined”: “He shined his flashlight on the skunk eating from the dog dish.” You can remember this because another sense of the word meaning “polished” obviously requires “shined”: “I shined your shoes for you.”

When the shining is less active, many people would use “shone”: “The sun shone on the tomato plants all afternoon.” But some authorities prefer “shined” even in this sort of context: “The sun shined on the tomato plants all afternoon.”

If the verb is intransitive (lacks an object) and the context merely speaks of the act of shining, the past tense is definitely “shone”: “The sun shone all afternoon” (note that nothing is said here about the sun shining on anything).


____________ 

https://commonerrorspodcast.wordpress.com/

On the podcast this week, we discuss troubleshooting photography.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

This Week: More on Disease Names on the Podcast + downfall/drawback

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.



____________ 

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

This Week: More on Disease Names on the Podcast + Old English

Old English
Many people refer to any older form of English as “Old English,” but this is properly a technical term for Anglo-Saxon, the original language in which Beowulf was written. Norman French combined with Old English to create Middle English, one form of which was used by Geoffrey Chaucer to write The Canterbury Tales. By Shakespeare’s time the language is modern English, though it may seem antique to modern readers who aren’t used to it.

There are many “Old English” typefaces which have nothing to do with the Old English language.


____________ 

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

This Week: More on Disease Names on the Podcast + disease names

disease names
The medical profession has urged since the 1970s the dropping of the possessive S at the end of disease names which were originally named after their discoverers (“eponymous disease names”). The possessive is thought to confuse people by implying that the persons named actually had the disease. Thus “Ménière’s syndrome” became “Ménière syndrome,” Bright’s disease” became “Bright disease” and “Asperger’s syndrome” became “Asperger syndrome.”

But the public has not always followed this rule. “Alzheimer disease” is still widely called “Alzheimer’s disease” or just “Alzheimer’s.” Only among professionals is this really considered a mistake.

“Down syndrome,” named after John Langdon Down—originally written “Down’s syndrome”—has been so often mistakenly written without its apostrophe as “Downs syndrome” that many people conclude that the syndrome’s discoverer must have been named “Downs.”
Although some professionals write “Huntington disease”—originally “Huntington’s chorea”—many still write “Huntington’s.” But another popular name for this illness is “Woody Guthrie’s disease” because the folksinger actually had it, though one also occasionally sees “Woody Guthrie disease.”

Lou Gehrig’s disease, named after its most famous sufferer, always bears an apostrophe-S because professionals prefer the rather more cumbersome but nonpossessive “amyotrophic lateral sclerosis” (ALS).

The best practice is to follow the pattern prevalent in your social context. If you are a medical professional, you’ll probably want to avoid the possessive forms.

“Legionnaires’ disease” has its apostrophe at the end of the first word because it was first recognized among a group of American Legion members celebrating the American Bicentennial. Specialists consider it a severe form of Legionellosis, caused by the bacterium Legionella pneumophila.

Lyme disease should never be written “Lyme’s disease” because it is not named after a person at all, but after the village of Lyme, Connecticut.


____________ 

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

This Week: Disease Names on the Podcast + frankly

frankly
Sentences beginning with this word are properly admissions of something shocking or unflattering to the speaker; but when a public spokesperson for a business or government is speaking, it almost always precedes a self-serving statement. “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn” is correct; but “Frankly, I think the American people can make their own decisions about health care” is an abuse of language. The same contortion of meaning is common in related phrases. When you hear a public figure say, “to be completely honest with you,” expect a lie.

____________ 

https://commonerrorspodcast.wordpress.com/

On the podcast this week, we talk about antiquated disease names.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

This Week: More Contranyms on the Podcast + scan/skim

scan/skim
Those who insist that “scan” can never be a synonym of “skim” have lost the battle. It is true that the word originally meant “to scrutinize,” but it has now evolved into one of those unfortunate words with two opposite meanings: to examine closely (now rare) and to glance at quickly (much more common). It would be difficult to say which of these two meanings is more prominent in the computer-related usage, to “scan a document.”

That said, it’s more appropriate to use “scan” to label a search for specific information in a text, and “skim” to label a hasty reading aimed at getting the general gist of a text. 




Wednesday, April 26, 2017

This Week: More Contranyms on the Podcast + on the contraire/au contraire, on the contrary, to the contrary

on the contraire/au contraire, on the contrary, to the contrary
People who like to show off their French sometimes use the expression au contraire when they mean “on the contrary” or “to the contrary.” People who don’t know any better mix up French and English by saying “on the contraire.”

“On the contrary” is the earliest form. It means “it’s the opposite”: “I thought you liked sweet pickles.” “On the contrary, I prefer dills.”

“To the contrary” means “to the opposite effect,” “in opposition”: “No matter what my neighbor says to the contrary, I think it’s his dog that’s been pooping on my petunias.”