Small mistakes part 4

rogersgeorge on February 2nd, 2012

Some words that many people get wrong:

Nauseous. Nauseous means “causing nausea.” Think green, slimy, glucky, and slightly quivering. Like under-cooked egg white, or what your dog upchucks on the kitchen floor. If you want to say you are experiencing the feeling of wanting to throw up, you say that you are nauseated. Don’t insult yourself by saying 1. that you are green and slimey, or 2. that you don’t know the correct usage of this word. Here’s the quote that reminded me of this error. It’s from one of the best motorcycle mechanics in the world. If your BMW needs fixing, go to him. If your text needs editing, come to me.

Some cool stuff  came out under him  and the low rider makes me nauseous….I would love a new Airhead but that aint gona happen…

Not very different from my bike

Enormity. Enormity means “extremely bad,” not “extremely big.” Yes, it looks like a version of enormous, but you have to go clear back to the Latin before enormous and enormity connect etymologically. Full disclosure: This mistake has been around a long time, a couple hundred years, and a lot of reasonably well-educated folks get it wrong. It’s still a mistake. Here’s the quote that reminded me of this one. It’s from an ebook that I’m considering buying (Chapter 1 is free). I plan to write the author and suggest he consider fixing the error. Easy corrections are another advantage of ebooks!

 “How shall I contact you?” Telisa asked, somewhat overwhelmed by the suddenness and enormity of what he offered.

Gotta show the cover of a sci-fi novel...

Niggardly. Niggardly means stingy. It’s the opposite of “generous.” Some under-educated dolts raised a ruckus a few years ago when someone in the government used this word correctly in a speech. They objected because the word is similar in appearance to nigger, and they didn’t catch the distinction. “Nigger” wasn’t even a racial slur until well into the 20th century. The words are completely unrelated. “Niggard” comes through Middle English from the Scandinavian, and “nigger” (and Negro) can be traced clear back to the Greek. It means “dark.” Speaking of Greek, one of the pastors in the church in Antioch was nicknamed “Blackie.” He was from Ethiopia. That church was integrated! See Acts 13:1, “Simon, who was called Niger…” Anyway, don’t let a bunch of lowbrows keep you from using this perfectly useful word.

Correct usage!

Healthy. Healthy means “possessing good health.” You are healthy. Your dog is healthy. Use Healthful to mean “causing good health.” Apples and exercise are healthful. And you don’t need a picture of an apple.

English has hundreds of words that can be confused, but these four are a good start to get right.

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Case part three

rogersgeorge on November 28th, 2011

Nominative case—subject of a sentence and predicate nominatives

Objective case—Direct object and other things

That leaves possessive. Not very many people have trouble with this one, except for possessive pronouns and plurals. We’ll get to those in a moment.

Did you ever wonder where the apostrophe came from? English is a Germanic language, and the possessive form in German ends in -es. You can see this form in Old English. As time passed, we dropped the e and replaced it with an apostrophe, same as with contractions. So our possessive nouns are really contractions.

Here’s the rule for making correct possessive nouns:

  1. Look at the word you want to make possessive, plural or not.
  2. Does it end in “s”? Then add an apostrophe and you’re done. For example, my first name is Rogers. This blog is mine, so you could say that The Writing Rag is Rogers’ blog. If you pronounce it “Rogerses,” you are correct.
  3. No “s” at the end? Then add apostrophe-s and you’re done. My evil twin is Roger. He does not own this blog, so this is not Roger’s blog. You would pronounce this “Rogers.”

Why couldn’t you add apostrophe-s to Rogers? You could, but then you have a problem with words like waitress. Three of the same letter in a row is forbidden in English. (Can you think of the exception to this rule?)

On to the pronouns. Here’s the rule: Memorize them! His hers its. Not an apostrophe in sight. They are their own form. They are not nouns—don’t do the apostrophe! Harrumpf!

loans and lending

rogersgeorge on December 4th, 2009

Lend—a verb. Something you do, possibly to regret later.

Loan—a noun. The loan is what you might or might not be repaid after you lend it to someone.

Do your lending carefully, and try to keep your loans affordable, in case they don’t pay back what you loaned them.

The latest internet marketers’ goof

rogersgeorge on September 18th, 2009

Internet marketers are infamous for being careless about their writing. They say, “Hubba hubba, get the message out, don’t get hung up on the details” (I’m not quoting anyone, but this is a common message). Ever hear the saying, “The devil is in the details”? When you are careless about little things, you advertise (true or not) that you are careless about big things.

This seems to be the mistake du jour:

Peek—to look at something, especially in a secretive manner. A Staples ad in my inbox has it right: They want me to take a sneak peek at their latest ad. I’m not distracted by any bad writing, so I’m free to be curious. Maybe I’ll take a look when I finish this tirade against  people shooting themselves in the foot.

Peak—The top of a mountain, the best of something. I see an email subject at this moment: the guy wants me to peak at some DNA. Its PEEK, folks!

Pique—to arouse, especially interest or curiosity. One doofus recently wanted to peek my interest in his product. Not from an illiterate, thanks.

These are second-grade words (okay, maybe “pique” is ninth grade). Advertise your products, not your ignorance!


I hope you have something to say about this. Leave a comment. If you’re motivated to improve your writing, fill in the form on the right to learn some ways to make sure you don’t commit these atrocities.

Just simply DON’T!

rogersgeorge on September 16th, 2009

How often should you use “just” and “simply” when you write instructions?

Almost never.

Look a a few examples. In every case, not only do you not change the meaning when you remove these offending words, but the result is cleaner, faster, tighter, easier. The fewer distractions you give your readers, the better your writing.

“Just put your money in the box.”                           “Put your money in the box.”
“Just turn left when you see the sign.”                     “Turn left when you see the sign.”
“To accept the document, simply click ‘I Accept’ ”      “To accept the document, click ‘ I Accept.’ ”
Just simply eliminate these useless words.                Eliminate these useless words.

Simple, isn’t it?

When do you use these words?

  • Use “just” to refer to the immediate past. “He just stepped off the plane.”
  • Use “simple” to say that something is not complicated, but I can’t think of a simple example for “simply.”

In the next hour you will see a few examples of this misuse out there in the wild. Maybe you’ll find a useful use of “simply.” Come back and share in the comment box (click “Add a comment” below this post). If you want some good general advice about writing, fill in the form on the right.