Saturday, August 29, 2009

A Word about Words

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?

Error vs. Err
Wrong: Let’s make sure we error on the side of caution.
Right: Let’s make sure we err on the side of caution.

I’ve heard this one too many times. To err (verb) is to make a mistake (or stray morally, as in “to err is human…”), while an error (noun) is the mistake. One is the act, the other the result.

Bisect vs. Dissect
Right: The interstate bisects the railroad tracks at mile marker 93.
Right: She refused to dissect the frog in today’s lab.

To bisect is to cut into two approximately equal parts, or to intersect or cross (as in the case of two roads), or even to fork. (“The old church is right past where highway 47 bisects.”) To dissect is to cut apart or examine in minute detail (such as dissecting an animal or an idea).

Egress vs. Ingress
Wrong: Egress is through that entrance.
Right: Ingress is through that entrance.

Egress is an exit, or the act of exiting. Ingress refers to going in or entering through a point of ingress (an entryway).

Congradulations vs. Congratulations
Wrong: Congradulations on your promotion!
Right: Congratulations on your promotion!

Congradulations is simply a misspelling of congratulations, an expression of pleasure or joy in the good fortune of another.

Simplistic vs. Simple
Wrong: There’s a simplistic solution to that problem.
Right: There’s a simple solution to that problem.

Simple means easy, while simplistic refers to something made overly simple (oversimplified), as in “You have a simplistic view of the world.” Simple is usually good; simplistic is not.

Flush out vs. Flesh out
Wrong: Write up an outline. We can flush it out later.
Right: Write up an outline. We can flesh it out later.

To flesh out an idea is to add meat to the bones, to give it substance or character. To flush out is to clean with a flow of liquid, as in flushing a toilet or fuel line. That’s probably not quite what the speaker has in mind when referring to flushing out an idea. (It can also mean to force a person or animal from hiding.)

Prospective vs. Perspective
Wrong: Have you met Mary’s perspective husband yet?
Right: Have you met Mary’s prospective husband yet?

Perspective, a noun, refers to a viewpoint or a way of looking at an idea (putting it in perspective), or a technique for displaying spatial relationships in two dimensions (artistic perspective), among other meanings. Prospective, an adjective, means future, likely, or expected. So, the perspective may be off in a blueprint of a prospective skyscraper.

Proscribe/Proscription vs. Prescribe/Prescription
Wrong: My doctor proscribed a sleep aid.
Right: My doctor prescribed a sleep aid.

Doctors prescribe, or order the use of, prescription medicines. To proscribe something is to prohibit, condemn, or outlaw—the exact opposite of prescribing.

Cache vs. Cash vs. Cachet
Wrong: Let’s cash some supplies in the basement in case of emergency.
Right: Let’s cache some supplies in the basement in case of emergency.

A cache (pronounced CASH) is a hiding place for food, ammunition, treasure, and so on; it can also mean the things hidden in the cache, as in “a cache of food.” Cash, of course, is money, including both coins and the folding variety. It can also refer to cash equivalents, such as checks and money orders. Cachet (pronounced ka-SHEY) has several meanings, including an official mark, seal, or stamp (as in a mark of excellence), as well as prestige. (“The title holds a certain cachet.”)

Acute vs. Chronic
Right: She’s suffering from an acute illness.
Right: She’s suffering from a chronic illness.

Acute means sharp, severe, or serious, such as an acute water shortage. Something that’s chronic continues for a long time or recurs frequently. An acute illness is brief and severe, while a chronic one is of long duration. Medically speaking, the two words have opposite meanings, so be sure to use them correctly.

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.

Newsletter contributing columnist 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: Click here or his blog at:
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