Thursday, August 18, 2005

Strolling up the isle aisle, I'll be

Excellent word-pairs coming in from fellow Word Snobs.

"I hate hate hate hate hate to hear preventative," writes SuperHolmie. "Preventive! Preventive! Preventive! Thank you." No, thank you.

ACM hears people say "momento," instead of "memento" (no mo' momento unless it's "un momento"). And adds, "Quixotic indeed sounds nothing like Don Quixote. ... Another word that I just recently heard mispronounced in a speech by an otherwise smart person was segue (he said "seh gyoo" rather than seg way). For word pairs, be sure to add principle/principal." Duly added. Just remember, the high school principal is your pal.

My friend T. mentions "hang/hung" as sources of misuse. Someone executed at the end of a rope has been "hanged," not "hung." That is the only usage of "hanged." You wouldn't say a guy hanged around the saloon until closing (unless you want to sound like a character in Dukes of Hazzard). Then there's the sexual connotation of "hung." Adds T., "Being hanged isn't desirable. Being hung might be."

Tapper remembers that "grandma used to adore correcting everyone in sight about their pronunciation of forte [rhymes with sport], so I've known that one for ages. Disperse/disburse is a commonly confused pair. For the truly confused, alot vs. a lot." The latter - a lot -- is correct. But the other is used a lot more often.

Kira brings "allude/elude" to our attention. The first means making reference to. The other means to escape or slip away from. Thanks for not letting allude elude our list. She also is driven nuts by confusion between "bare/bear" and "loose/lose." Good examples of why Spellchecker is no good when you're trying to improve your spelling. It only catches typos, not misuses or homonyms. If you use "bare" when it should be "bear," Spellchecker will see the correct spelling and move on without flagging it.

"I should of done my homework last night instead of drinking so much," posts Ionna, using an example of a frequent mistake on her students' papers. Should be "should have," of course. Or its contraction, "should've." Also, "This class has (to, too, two) much homework for me. I have actually had students confuse two and too. Sigh." I have, too, Ionna. Sigh.

Aunt Nancy posts three of my favorites: Realtor (should be pronounced REE-uhl-tor or REE-uhl-tur, but never REE-lit-TER... and it's capitalized for licensed Realtors); foliage (never foilage); and restaurateur, which you'll notice does NOT contain an "N," as in restaurant. You hear broadcast professionals says "restauranteur" all the time. That one eats me up, too, Auntie.

"Recently I saw an entire memo neatly typed out with `weather' instead of `whether,'" reports VerySlimBroom. Yes, the thunderclouds gather on that one.

Celeste, like other Word Snobs, hates hearing "impact" used as a verb. I'm with her on that. You may make an impact on the world, but if you impact it, you're a meteor (or a wisdom tooth).

E. mentions farther/further. This one really separates the wheat from the chaff, the wordly wise from the mere dilettante. Because "farther" refers to a measurable distance, while "further" can be a verb (an effort to urge something forward, as in "to further that cause") or an adverb ("don't speak further on the topic"). But you shouldn't say "How much further is it to the Taj Mahal?" because you could measure that distance in actual miles. Same goes for "more than/over" and "fewer/less." If you can actually count it or measure it, it's "more" and "fewer." I love Central Market (our local health food supermarket) for putting "Fewer than 15 items" on the sign above the express lane.

WMR is bugged by those who pronounce "cache" the same as "cachet." The former is pronounced like "stash," which is also a synonym for cache. Cachet is that ephemeral sense of elegant style possessed by Grace Kelly and completely lacking in Paris Hilton. Cachet also refers to some sort of commemorative postal markings, but how often does one need to refer to that if one is not a philatelist?

Several readers wish to remind that there are no such words as "flustrate," "irregardless" and "misunderestimate."

Thanks for your entries.

And for those who keep asking how to "sign up" for the writing class, there's no need to. Just show up Tuesday and Thursdays right here in the bat cave. Or catch up on previous lessons and quizzes at whatever pace you want.

This isn't real school. You do it at your own pace, keeping up with postings as you make progress.

Oh, one more thing: Don't send me your quiz answers and don't post them in comments. Just keep them to yourself and check back for the right answers later. That way everyone gets to play along.

Back later after dark. Right now, the pool beckons. Being on a freelance schedule has some advantages.


Blogger Orange said...

Yes, yes, yes!

Some kid wrote a letter to Mental Floss magazine "correcting" their appropriate use of principal as an adjective. The kid mentioned the "principal is your pal" thing, but principle isn't an adjective! Oh, how stupid the editorial staff looked, taking a 12-year-old's word for it instead of (1) knowing what's right, or (2) checking a dictionary before committing their stupidity to paper.

2:20 PM  
Blogger kitty said...

How about drag & drug? Hearing "I drugged myself out of bed" is like fingernails on a blackboard.
One time I replied, "Oh, really? What drug did you take?"
It sounds so low rent to me, yet I've heard said by educated people.

2:44 PM  
Anonymous Susan said...

As a biologist, I've seen a lot of poor attempts at reverse-engineering word forms. This is how we end up with people referring to a protein becoming "degradated" when they mean "degraded".

3:05 PM  
Anonymous Travis Prinzi said...

A couple of my favorites:

"For all intensive purposes" instead of "intents and purposes."

"Supposebly" instead of "supposedly."

3:13 PM  
Blogger G. Brooke said...

Okay, it had twice recently driven me crazy to hear someone use the phrase, "wreck havoc" (instead of "wreak havoc"). But now that you have me checking the dictionary, I see that /rek/ is a second, acceptable pronunciation of "wreak." A legitimate variant, or perhaps itself arising from confusion with "wreck"? Hm.

If you were to "wreck havoc," I don't know what you'd get; order, maybe.

3:16 PM  
Blogger KlevaBich said...

I agree with all these complaints, and add my own: "summit" used as a verb. You climb the mountain, you reach the summit, you do not summit the mountain. Not in my world.

But is there any hope for a nation represented by a man who consistently says "newk-ya-lur"?

4:30 PM  
Blogger SuperHolmie said...

Has someone mentioned the "prostrate" gland yet?

4:36 PM  
Blogger Andy said...

Perhaps this does not fall into the category of word pairs, but it pains me when people say, "I could care less," when, in fact, they mean they couldn't care less.

On word pairs, my mum always (intentionally) referred to desiccated coconut as desecrated coconut. She also claimed to have had a depraved childhood rather than a deprived childhood.

4:54 PM  
Anonymous Lindsay Kaye said...

AH! When people say "I should of done whatever," I want to SHOOT MYSELF. I admit that I am not the biggest spelling and grammar queen, but COME ON. Should HAVE. It's not that difficult, considering it even has it's own contraction.

5:18 PM  
Blogger Wayfaring Stranger said...

One confused-word-pair that drives me crazy is amount/number, often misused in phrases like "a large amount of people." I have seen this particular misuse in newspaper articles (written by supposedly educated journalists), and heard it in news reports on TV (sometimes the culprit is the reporter; sometimes, the person being interviewed).

Number should used when referring to something that can be counted: A small number of people turned out for the school's open house..

Amount is properly used when referring to something that can't be counted: A large amount of snow slid down the roof and landed on the walkway he had just finished shoveling.

5:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

my dad, a typical old timey southerner, drives me crazy sometime with his pronounciation. it comes out especially when he says "Wash" as "Worsh" or "Washington" as "Worshington".
Then of course there's always "real good". Never really. Just "real".
I'm always like....uhhh was it ever fake good?


5:37 PM  
Blogger Erudite Redneck said...

Note that "Realtor" is always capitalized. Always. It is a trademark that does not otherwise exist. The word "realtor" is not a word -- although some dictionaries seem to accept it, wrongly. They should not. It's like "Rolaids." There is no such word as "rolaids."

6:58 PM  
Blogger Stef said...

The obvious... there, their and they're.
People in my office (ages 20-?) aren't quite sure which one to use!

7:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I want your grocery store!

adverse vs. averse (I'm averse to experiencing adverse effects) is a common one.

I'm no longer surprised to read anything in a newspaper. I worked at one for about a year. One day I described a new reporter's face as "craggy", and nobody knew what the word meant! By the time I left I was doing the proof-reading on their marketing stuff, and I was the receptionist.


8:04 PM  
Blogger beche-la-mer said...

I was taught a great poem about word use and pronunciation by my grandfather. I found it today:

(Note that this is British/Australian English pronunciation -- I know Americans say loo-tenant whereas we say lef-tenant, for example.)

I'm an editor, so I could give you a whole list of word misuses that get on my goat. But one anecdote I will relate is a time when I was told by a superior to take the word "skein" out of a sentence because readers would not know what it meant (since she didn't). I wrestled for ages with how to describe a skein of thread, without actually using the word "skein" -- it's not a reel, a spool or a hank, so what do you call it? I eventually settled on "bundle", which met with the approval of my superior, but was really unsatisfactory.

What I want to know is, who wouldn't be able to figure out what a skein is, from the context of the sentence? Or, failing that, why couldn't they use a dictionary to find out the meaning of the correct term?

8:25 PM  
Blogger beche-la-mer said...

Just realised I used one of my own pet hates in my previous post: "how" instead of "the way". The sentence should read:

"I wrestled for ages with the way to describe a skein of thread...."

What was that about glass houses?

8:31 PM  
Anonymous Ang said...

While, when written, 'should of' is incorrect, when spoken it’s nearly impossible to differentiate 'should of' and 'should've.' That could cause some of the confusion. Also, with 'forte,' if we assume the word is derived from French, then yes, fort would be correct. But, some argue that the word is Italian in origin, making the for-TAY pronunciation correct.

8:44 PM  
Anonymous wmr said...

Isn't for-TAY exclusively a musical term?

Another doublet which I have heard confused is uninterested/disinterested.

And I suppose it's far too late to complain about comprise/compose.

Finally, I heartily second SuperHolmie on 'preventive'.

9:10 PM  
Blogger Tweedledopey said...

My biggest pet peeve? Height. There's no h at the end, so don't say it like it does. A geometry teacher in high school was the first one I heard say "heighth." Yes, I know width has an h at the end. But not height.

Forte (of the TAY variety) is for music; forte (of the FORT variety) is for strength. For example, "The song was difficult because of the multiple sections of forte (TAY), fortunately, that was my forte (). But I don't know that anyone really cares anymore.

9:15 PM  
Blogger Wayfaring Stranger said...

Re: forte, it's interesting to note what Merriam-Webster has to say about its usage:

"... you can take your choice, knowing that someone somewhere will dislike whichever variant you choose."

9:29 PM  
Blogger Wayfaring Stranger said...

Oops! The correct link is:

9:32 PM  
Blogger SuperHolmie said...

This isn't a word pair, but it's a real eye-roller: referring to one's driving license in the plural.

"My license? I'm afraid I don't have them with me."


9:56 PM  
Anonymous kelly said...


enough said.

when i was a writing tutor, i came across on my a fellow tutor's student's paper.
the first sentence:

I was the valid victorian of my class.


yeah, we all had a laugh at that one.

10:02 PM  
Anonymous kelly said...

gah that should say
"i came across a fellow tutor's student's paper"

(did i even spell fellow right? it looks strange now)

10:06 PM  
Blogger Slap-Happy said...

I've only lately been bugged by the correct pronunciation of "forte" (accent mark over the "e", I know).

It sounds exactly like "fort", and it is constantly pronounced "fort-ay".

12:33 AM  
Blogger Slap-Happy said...

Maybe I should read all of the comments before posting. I'm still going with "fort" because I can correct people and they won't know whether I'm right or wrong. They'll just accept it.

12:36 AM  
Blogger Slap-Happy said...

I hate a large number of buzz-words. Not that they were bad before, but the abuse suffered by the likes of "paradigm" makes it difficult to look at the poor thing.

12:40 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the "forte" comment. I was beginning to think I was crazy. Or miseducated (??!!).

You forgot the lay/lie discussion.....perhaps next time?

Thanks for letting me be a bit of a word snob. It's so rare these days.....

12:42 AM  
Blogger jackhazard said...

Hmm. According to Fowler and the 1985 CGEL, there's nothing wrong with saying that "The Taj Majal is ten miles further down the road." While "farther" is generally restricted to measurable distance, "further" can be used to describe both distance, and other kinds of "furthermore"-type relationships.

1:29 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think it has become ok to mispell words if you use email.

9:38 AM  
Blogger Loosely Twisted said...

Their there and they're .. drive me insain.

I am not perfect on spelling, so I try not to throw rocks very often. But in my journeys with reading in fanfic, the abuse the English language is taking; makes me want to weep in pain.

(pointing out comma, semi-colon, and various attributes of sentance structure) Which is what my beef is about today. :)


10:34 AM  
Blogger ms. jared said...

hearty and hardy?

xoxo, jared

2:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Winch and Wench,
I want to cry everytime I hear someone remark that I really should get a wench to hook on the front bumper of my Jeep: to pull me out should I get stuck on a trail.

Now I am politically incorrect, but hardly that misogynistic!

2:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My comment is not about pairs, but I still want to share how I feel.
I like Gwen's song "Cool" very much; however, it kills me to hear the following line in it,"You and me are still good friends."
~Not a word snob here... but still...

2:27 PM  
Blogger Kevin said...

Here's a pair that's been overlooked so far: discreet and discrete. It seems that over half the time, people who mean "discreet" instead write "discrete," and this drives me crazy.

There's also the constant use of "criteria" as a singular. It's plural.

2:55 PM  
Anonymous Frolic said...

Ok I am not getting the whole forte thing. If it's pronounced in French it would be for-teh, the feminine of fort. If we just added the 'e' for fun and want to use the masculine pronunciation it's for, silent t. Neither of which sound much like fort in English.

So I go by the Italian pronunciation, mainly because of my background in music. At least it's pronounced the same way in English and Italian.

3:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Carol Herman, here.

Did you see the bear bare shoot out of the woods? Definitely not dressed for a walk in the park.

Drum roll. Does the affect effect your hearing?

The king's reign was marred by so much rain it forced Englishmen to carry umbrellas as a style accessory.

3:54 PM  
Anonymous David said...


When I grew up, there was no "t" in the pronunciation. My Grandfather (english major, 1930) always said it was a silly affectation of east coast snobs.

It has taken over the US however

4:18 PM  
Blogger Andy said...

Here's an interesting note about "forte" from

"Usage Note: The word forte, coming from French fort, should properly be pronounced with one syllable, like the English word fort. Common usage, however, prefers the two-syllable pronunciation, (fôrt), which has been influenced possibly by the music term forte borrowed from Italian. In a recent survey a strong majority of the Usage Panel, 74 percent, preferred the two-syllable pronunciation. The result is a delicate situation; speakers who are aware of the origin of the word may wish to continue to pronounce it as one syllable but at an increasing risk of puzzling their listeners."

The question then becomes, "what is the purpose of a dictionary?" Are dictionaries prescriptive or descriptive of the English language?

4:40 PM  
Blogger Andy said...

I found a grate list of word pears at

Yes, the misspellings were intentional.

4:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was bumfuzzled the first time my west coast ears heard a Texan say she was flustrated by a situation.

What about cite,site,and sight? My local big city newspaper frequently misuses these words.

My favorite trio is insure, ensure, and assure.

And when did it become okay to say I conversated with him?


6:20 PM  
Anonymous Auntie A said...

How about this one? My French professor in college was grading papers and I was helping. She paused on one paper, circled something and went on.

She told me later that in the section of the test where she gave the definition and we had to write down the correct word, that for coffee with milk, the student wrote down cafe ole, instead of cafe au lait.

She gave him points for effort.

11:45 PM  
Blogger SuperHolmie said...

Someone who can't hear is "death".

12:16 AM  
Blogger Gene said...

have you heard of TAKS Propaganda Pencils?

If not, this post may entertain you:

8:16 AM  
Anonymous Charles said...

Concerning forte...

If it's spelled forté, then the pronunciation is the two syllable for-tay. The accent makes the pronunciation, in this case.

If it happens to be written simply as forte, it would be pronounced as "fort" in both French and English.

My preference is to pronounce it for-tay, but that's because I always write it with the accent on the e. I had to conjugate forté for years in French class, so it's stuck with me to toss on the accent (which is Alt 130, if you want to use it)

Some word pairs that bug me:

mete/meat/meet - I've seen some folks use "meat" in the sense of "mete." I wasn't aware you could "meat out justice" but I'm sure with some steak sauce it might make the pill of justice easier to swallow...

videlicet/vis-a-vis - I've seen one person attempt to be pretentious by using viz. (the abbreviation of videlicet, meaning "that is," "to wit," or "namely") when he meant to use vis-a-vis.

12:45 PM  
Blogger BeckyJ said...

Proactive. You can act or react, but proactive? How do you proact? Drives me crazy. Or "try and" for "try to." Agh!

4:31 PM  
Anonymous shoulderer said...

What about my personal favorite: the misuse of lay intransitively for lie?

As in "I just want to lay on the couch all afternoon and watch TV." Ack!


Also, I once heard an NPR story in which a reporter recounted hearing someone hurling "racial epitaphs" rather than "epithets."

6:07 PM  
Blogger Snow Mint said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

6:10 PM  
Blogger Snow Mint said...

Do preventative and preventive not have the same definition? Is preventative not a word?

6:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If I hear the "W" say "nucular" one more time I might throw up.

7:51 PM  
Anonymous Dave Empey said...

I like Webster's Dictionary of English Usage on "forte":
"[I]t is now an English word, which we may pronounce as we see fit."

10:51 PM  
Blogger beche-la-mer said...

According to the most popular Australian dictionary, the Macquarie Dictionary, forte is pronounced "fortay" for both definitions, and "fort" when describing a part of a sword. There is a note that mentions the pronunciation "fort" for strength as having currency in the US and UK, but says that it is rarely used in Australia.

No wonder I had no idea what you were all talking about!

11:22 PM  
Blogger Wayfaring Stranger said...

As a point of interest re: the pronounciation of nuclear: give a listen to the three pronounciations provided at Merriam-Webster Online.

8:43 AM  
Blogger Wayfaring Stranger said...

Snow Mint said...

Do preventative and preventive not have the same definition? Is preventative not a word?

According to my decades old Webster's dictionary, the answer to both those questions is yes.

Most often I have heard preventive used as an adjective, and preventative, as a noun, but the dictionary says that each is properly used as either an adjective or a noun.

8:49 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

my grandma also did the "forte" correction but so few people are aware of the correct pronunciation that i avoid saying it at all anymore.

10:23 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Moot and Mute.

I have heard both my supervisor and his boss dimiss a point as "mute". These are men with college degrees.


11:59 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


How do you feel about the usage of "because" and "since?"

I use "since" when referring to a period of time (ex. Judy hasn't lived here since 2002) and "because" for reason.

8:33 PM  
Blogger Typonaut said...

"Orientated." Ick.

The now-frequent use of "loose" for "lose." Why? They're not homonyms.

About "they're," "their" and "there": my thinking brain knows the difference, but my typing fingers make substitutions.

6:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Unable/enable is another word pair which people use wrongly. People say "unable" when they actually mean "enable". However they do not cause as much confusion as other word pairs since they are used in completely different context.

1:14 PM  
Blogger distracted diva said...

I'm coming to this game a bit late, I see. I can't believe no one has included the notorious "its/it's" pair!

its: belonging to it
it's: it is

Don't even get me started on the random insertion of apostrophes. Ugh.

1:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My sister-in-law says she wants to put the TV on moot. I've heard people use moot & mute interchangably, and it makes me want to shoot someone. Or should I say shute someone? hehe

10:20 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wayfaring Stranger said...
One confused-word-pair that drives me crazy is amount/number, often misused in phrases like "a large amount of people." I have seen this particular misuse in newspaper articles (written by supposedly educated journalists), and heard it in news reports on TV (sometimes the culprit is the reporter; sometimes, the person being interviewed).

I have just one questions; is he supposedly a journalist, or is he supposebly educated?

8:16 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Woops, my mistake, mispelled supposably.

8:32 AM  
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