Friday, March 20, 2009

A Word about Words

Don’t let these commonly misused/misspelled words and phrases trip you up
By Mark Terence Chapman

Here are some more words and phrases that are commonly misused or misspelled. A conscientious writer should use these correctly. More importantly, using these words/phrases correctly will reduce the odds of your writing being rejected by an editor due to excessive errors. (Editors don’t want to waste time on pieces that require an inordinate amount of their time to clean up.) Even if you write only business reports and emails, you still wouldn’t want people chuckling over your misuse of the English language, would you?

Addition vs. Edition

Wrong: The fifth addition of his book just came out.
Right: The fifth edition of his book just came out.

Given how common both words are, I’m surprised at how often I see addition confused for edition. An addition is something that is added, while an edition is a form in which text is printed. A special holiday section of a newspaper might be said to be an addition to the edition.

Melt(ed/ing) vs. meld(ed/ing)

Wrong: I’m looking forward to the melting of our cultures.
Right: I’m looking forward to the melding of our cultures.

To melt is to soften (as butter), dissolve (sugar), or lose shape or distinctiveness, often because of heat. To meld, on the other hand is to blend or merge. The melding of two families through marriage is enough to melt one’s heart.

Till vs. ‘Til

Wrong: He won’t be back till later.
Right: He won’t be back ‘til later.

Till is an erroneous contraction of until. The correct contraction is ‘til.

Skew vs. SKU

Wrong: We need to move some skews today, people!
Right: We need to move some SKUs today, people!

An SKU is a stock-keeping unit, or inventory item. This noun is often pronounced skew (skyoo) for brevity. Unfortunately, the similarity in pronunciation with the verb skew (to take an oblique course, look askance, or distort from a true value or symmetrical shape) produces confusion in spelling for those who don’t know the origin of the acronym. So don’t let a confusion with SKU skew your spelling.

Commas around names

Wrong: Where do you want to go James?
Right: Where do you want to go, James?
Wrong: So Mary what do you propose?
Right: So, Mary, what do you propose?

In dialog, when one character speaks to another and refers to him or her by name, always set off the name with a comma before the name, and—if another clause follows—one after the name.

Capitalizing proper names

Wrong: de Broux is the subject of a criminal investigation.
Right: De Broux is the subject of a criminal investigation.
Right: Patrick de Broux is the subject of a criminal investigation.

Many surnames begin with de, di, da, von, van and other lower-case prefixes. Although the correct spelling of Wernher von Braun is with a lower-case v, when beginning a sentence with the surname, always capitalize the prefix (as in “Von Braun became director of NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in 1960.”).

Grin and bare it vs. Grin and bear it

Wrong: Sometimes you just have to grin and bare it.
Right: Sometimes you just have to grin and bear it.

The verb bear has a number of meanings, including to hold up under stress. The expression grin and bear it, then means to endure with a smile on one’s face. It is akin to whistle while you work, in the sense that a smile or whistle theoretically makes difficulties easier to tolerate. The sound-alike grin and bare it evokes images of someone wearing a broad smile while streaking.

E-mail vs. Email

Right: Send me an e-mail.
Right: Send me an email.

Over time, on-line has shortened to online and World Wide Web site has contracted to web site and even website. Similarly, E-mail and e-mail are undergoing a contraction to email. Currently all forms are acceptable.

Vested vs. Invested

Wrong: Everyone on my staff is vested in providing the best service possible.
Right: Everyone on my staff is invested in providing the best service possible.
Wrong: By the power invested in me...
Right: By the power vested in me...

Vested has several meanings, including “protected by law” (such as vested retirement funds) and “held permanently or inalienably” (vested rights). Invested has even more meanings, including “committed,” “endowed with authority or power,” and “installed ceremoniously in office.” The first example refers to the commitment of the person’s staff, while the second indicates that the individual is endowed by church or secular law with the authorization and right to perform specific duties.

Bar none

Wrong: He’s one of the best in his field, bar none.
Right: He’s the best in his field, bar none.
Right: He’s one of the best in his field.

The expression bar none means without exception. Someone can be the best with no exceptions; but if only one of the best, by definition there are exceptions.
If you’ve ever been confused about any of these words or phrases, tack this column to the wall by your desk. It’ll help you avoid similar errors in the future.

Mark Terence Chapman writes in various genres: He’s a poet, short story writer, novelist, humorist, and even a nonfiction writer tackling computer topics and nanotechnology. To find out more about Mr. Chapman, please visit his Web site at: or his blog at:

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