Don’t be an amateur

rogersgeorge on June 3rd, 2012

Many people think that because English is their native spoken language, they can write their English any way they want and it’ll be correct. Descriptivism notwithstanding, I don’t quite agree. How you write says things about you that go beyond what you write about. You might be a fine person, and it’s certainly correct to wear both trousers and a shirt, but wearing two kinds of plaid tells the ladies that you have no taste. Or that you’re a normal guy, but you get my point. (I learned the mismatched plaid thing from my wife.)

Amateurisms in writing show that you don’t know how to put words together correctly, and they label you as someone a bit lacking in the language department, and hence where else you might be lacking?

I’d cause needless anxiety if I didn’t give a few examples. If you’re not guilty of any of these, you can be confident that you’re at least on the level of the guy who knows enough to match his socks.

Rest assured. It’s not “be rest assured.” This expression is a perfectly normal metaphor for safety. You can go to bed without needing to worry about something.  I found several good comics with “rest assured” in the caption, but I chose this picture because my colleagues think I look and act like this guy. I see we both wear our watches on our right wrists!

Neither of us argue politics, either

You, not “yous” or “youse.” (How do you spell a word that’s always wrong?) In high school one of the ladies in the cafeteria was friendly, and she would converse with us, but she said things like “I’m glad youse are such good kids.” Nobody ever said anything, but we all marked her as someone who would never advance beyond being a table cleaner in a school cafeteria.

All of a sudden. Don’t say “All of the sudden.” I don’t know why, but the “the” is incorrect, and it marks you like the cafeteria lady.

All, not “alls.” All you have to do is never say “alls.” It’s like pronouncing the “t” in often. Don’t do it.

Yeah, not yea. “Yea” (yea is pronounced yay) is an old word for “yes,” and now we use it only in voting. Yeah, admittedly pretty  casual, is spelled with the “h” at the end.

I mentioned two others in a recent post, irregardless and preventative. Don’t write those words, either.


Subscribe to this blog's RSS feed

Synonyms or not?

rogersgeorge on May 30th, 2012

In German, if you change the prefix to a word, especially a verb, you get a completely different word. Brauchen means “need,” but gebrauchen means “buy.” English is less rigorous. Lots of times we add a prefix or suffix to a word and get the same meaning. I think we want to say the word more strongly, so we add a random syllable someplace. Today I’ll remind you of a few of them, and make the better choice bold. Perhaps you can add to the list.

Flammable and inflammable. I have a comic for this one:

I wonder who those two guys are.

The comments on this comic are funny, too.

Preventive and preventative. The latter is generally considered low class.

Valuable and invaluable. I suppose the latter literally means “having a value that can’t be calculated,” but we have the perfectly good word “priceless” for that.

Regardless and irregardless. Never use “irregardless”! It’ll peg you as semi-literate in an instant, and you’ll become an object of derision by curmudgeons everwhere.

Caregiver and caretaker. These two are synonyms when they refer to someone who deals with the elderly. I think “caregiver” is a result of marketing efforts in the elder-care industry, and I think the word does have nicer connotations than caretaker, which can also apply to animals and gardens. You’re a caretaker, not a caregiver, at the zoo.

Burn up and burn down. Okay, there’s a distinction here if you care to make it. “Burn up” means completely consumed by fire, and “burn down” refers to a structure such as a house. “Burned up” is more general.

Titled and entitled. Here’s an example of two words that have separate meanings in different contexts. Titled can mean you’re a Duke or something like that, and entitled can mean you have permission to possess something. But when you refer to the name of a book, you should say the book is titled Thus and So.

Okay—your turn what are your favorite meaningless prefixes and suffixes?