Word nerd rage

I’ve been noticing a lot of errors in the online media I have consumed recently. Being that person who comes across as thinking they’re infallible when it comes to grammar and word use, and only comments on articles to point out that the editor missed the part in the third paragraph where the author typed “or” instead of “for” doesn’t really appeal to me. However, I’ve come across numerous instances of authors and/or editors using a word incorrectly, not because they mis-typed it, but because they apparently think it’s right*. Here’s my rundown of commonly misused words.

1. Weary/wary

Weary = tired. Wary = cautious. I don’t know how many times I’ve seen something like, “I’m weary of telling off my kind-of-racist friend because I haven’t done it before, and I don’t know how he’ll react.” If you’ve never done it before, you can’t be tired of doing it. Less common is the inverse: “I’m wary of telling off my racist friend. I do it all the time, and it never seems to have made a difference.”

2. Nigh/neigh

This isn’t so common, but I’ve seen “neigh-invincible” and its ilk a number of times recently, and it just makes me think of a Kryptonian horse or something (which would be invincible, except for its vulnerability to Kryptonite). So, for the record: nigh = near. Neigh = a sound horses make.

3. Peruse

Most people, including me until recently, thought this meant “to read very quickly, to skim.” What it actually means is “to read very thoroughly, or to examine carefully or at length.”

4. Flaunt/flout

Also less common, apparently because people mostly know that “flaunt = show off” but don’t know that the word “flout” exists. This results in the occasional “Bob flaunted the company’s ethical guidelines by stealing from the vending machines every day.” The word you want in this case is “flout,” which means “to openly disregard or scorn.”

5. Amoral/immoral

This is probably most commonly seen in comments by trolls, but there’s an important distinction between this two words. Immoral = not following accepted moral standards of right and wrong. Amoral = not concerned with moral standards of right and wrong. So science is definitely amoral, but scientists generally are not, since they are people and most people care at least a little bit about societal norms. Scientists (and priests, lawyers, rabbis, construction workers, etc.) can certainly be immoral, and one might reasonably label various scientific experiments as immoral (in the sense of “not ethically justifiable”), like the Tuskegee syphilis experiment, but I think science as a whole (as well as most scientists) comes out okay in this regard.

6. Climactic/climatic

I saw a reference to “climactic changes such as global warming” and had to go look it up to make sure, but my gut was right; the clause above is wrong (I hope). Climactic = relating to a climax. Climatic  = related to a climate. Just say “climate change.”

7. Discreet/discrete

Discreet = intentionally unobtrusive. Discrete  = quantized (or “individually separate and distinct,” for the non-physics crowd). Enough said.

8. Loose/lose

Lose  = “be deprived of, cease to have or retain, become unable to find.” Loose = “not firmly fixed in place” or “not fitting tightly (of a garment)” or, as a verb, “to set free; release.” One does not shout, “Lose the hounds!” in a 17th century game hunt, nor say, “I was very sorry to loose your sister.”  I know this one is probably just a typo, but it bears repeating. Speaking of which…

9. Bare/bear and born/borne

I can’t think of many things that “bare repeating.” This is mostly tricky because the both have a number of meaning both literal and metaphorical. Generally, bear = “support, carry, endure” and also both “produce” (as in “bear fruit” or “bear children”) and “turn” (“bear right at the next exit”), while bare = “uncovered” or “without addition.” While we’re at it, the past participle of “bear” is “borne,” not “born,” unless you’re talking about somebody being born as a result of their mother giving birth. Meanwhile, the past participle of bare is “bared.” Ain’t English grand?

10. Horde/hoard

Neither of these words is used very much in everyday speech, but I guess I spend more time than most reading about the invading hordes (very large groups) and dragons’ hoards (stores of money or valued objects, typically hidden away).

11. Flounder/founder

A flounder is a type of fish (that looks absolutely nothing like the one in The Little Mermaid), but it also means “to move clumsily” or “to have difficulty doing something.” You may have heard of somebody floundering around, trying to think of something to say during a debate or have a hard time swimming if it’s their first time in the pool. “Founder,” apart from meaning “a person who manufactures iron or cast metal” and “a person who establishes an institution,” has the confusingly similar meaning “to fail.” This is most commonly seen in reference to ships, e.g. “The Belle Marie foundered off the coast of Sardinia due to a massive hole in her hull,” but you could refer to peace talks or businesses or other things foundering as well, if they’ve suffered from massive failure. If they’re still limping unskillfully along, they’re merely floundering.

Well, that’s enough pedantic rambling for now. If you’re interested, here are some more resources that I either consulted while writing this or have found entertaining and informative in the past:

Oxford Dictionaries: Commonly confused words

The Oatmeal’s comics about grammar

Mental Floss: Commonly Mispronounced Words

*I’m definitely not infallible, but I tried really hard in this post not to make any spelling or grammatical errors. Of course, the universal laws of petty comedy demand that there will be a really obvious typo somewhere in this post, and for that I apologize.

[Featured image from commansentence.com.]


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