4 Perennially Misused Words

Some word pairs will probably always continue to be confused. Here are five such, all of which have been mentioned on this site in the past. The examples in this post date from recent months. pore: (verb) to examine closely Confused with pour: (verb) to transfer water or some other substance from a container. [Agents …Read more

Seep and Steep

The writer of an article in the Washington Post about the funeral arrangements for the late Queen Elizabeth II remarked that the events were “seeped in tradition.” It may have been an inadvertent typo, but it may have been the result of not looking up the word to check its meaning. An event may be …Read more

Disavowed and Disabused

One day, not long ago, I read a story in the Guardian about a man who mistook an alligator for a dog. The following sentence made me grab my pen: But the man was quickly disavowed of his belief the creature was a dog when it bit him on the leg. What? Surely the writer …Read more

Precedent and Precedence Are Different

A writer recently complained that Amazon had rejected her book title. She said that the title should be approved because the objectionable word in it “had a historical precedence.” If she meant that the word had already appeared in another title, she wanted the word precedent. Both words derive from the Latin verb praecedere, meaning, …Read more

“Disembodied” Does Not Mean That

In a very interesting BBC News article about ancient gardens, the writer describes an ancient relief that shows the vegetation-loving but brutal ruler Ashurbanipal and his wife reclining under a grapevine. It’s an archetypal garden paradise—that is, except for the disembodied head of an enemy, which is hanging from a nearby tree. The writer seems …Read more

Slurry and Flurry

Almost right is not good enough. I read this in the Daily Mail during hurricane season: . . . the National Weather Service issued a slurry of alarming tweets. Presumably, the writer meant that the Weather Service issued so many tweets, one after another, they were like objects flying through the air. If that were …Read more

“Penpointing” and Other Near-Misses in the Media

Penpointing for pinpointing In my part of the world, many speakers have a hard time hearing the difference between the vowel sounds in pen (rhymes with Ben) and pin (rhymes with sin). The usual reversal is to pronounce pen as pin—not the other way round. For that reason, I was puzzled when I started finding …Read more

Double-Parking, Straddle, and To Seek Out

I find language fodder everywhere. This post was prompted by a Facebook video clip. Situation A woman is loading her groceries. The woman’s car is barely over the painted line on her left. A red car has parked as closely as possible to her driver’s side. The owner of the red car lurks in hiding …Read more

Connotation of “Ram” vs “Cram”

在浏览网页搜索的免版税的graphics, I came across a source described this way: This site does not host one unattractive image, it is rammed full with outstanding landscapes and breath-taking scenes of nature. What? Surely this blogger meant to say “crammed full.” Surely, no one else is confusing the verb ram …Read more

Wether, Weather, Whether

Wether is a prime example of a word that will slip past the spell check. It is easily confused with two of its homonyms, whether and weather. Flying fingers find it easy to miss the single letter that separates them. Unless you’re a farmer, you might not even know that wether is either a: male …Read more

Publicly vs. Publically

Is publically a word? Yes, if by “a word” you mean “a term that is found as an entry in dictionaries.” But is it a word a careful writer is apt to use? That’s another story, which will be told below. First, dictionaries are not arbiters of highly literate writing; they merely document usage. For …Read more