03 May, 2007

Using Words Incorrectly

This article in the Economist is titled “Some common solecisms”, which I imagine to mean misuse or incorrect use of words. It is fascinating getting caught up on your sins. Give it a try.

Here follows a few, but not a complete, list of my sins of solecism:

Alternative: strictly, this is one of two, not one of three, four, five or more (which may be options).

I often talk about alternative medicine to mean various forms of natural holistic medical practices.

Anticipate does not mean expect. Jack and Jill expected to marry; if they anticipated marriage, only Jill might find herself expectant.

Actually, I don’t believe I use anticipate incorrectly, I just like the example.

Circumstances stand around a thing, so it is in, not under, them.

Compound does not mean make worse. It may mean combine or, intransitively, it may mean to agree or come to terms. To compound a felony means to agree for a consideration not to prosecute.

Convince. Don't convince people to do something. In that context the word you want is persuade. The prime minister was persuaded to call a June election; he was convinced of the wisdom of doing so only after he had won.

Discreet means circumspect or prudent; discrete means separate or distinct. Remember that “Questions are never indiscreet. Answers sometimes are.” (Oscar Wilde)

And so on …

There are a few explanations given that are simple in nature, but I do not know if I knew how simple they were and thus used the words properly:

Compare: A is compared with B when you draw attention to the difference. A is compared to B only when you want to stress their similarity. ( “Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?”)

Current and contemporary mean at that time, not necessarily at this time. So a series of current prices from 1960 to 1970 will not be in today's prices, just as contemporary art in 1800 was not modern art. Contemporary history is a contradiction in terms.

And then there are a few "common" words on the list that I've never used at all, whether correctly or incorrectly:

Aetiology is the science of causation, or an inquiry into something's origins. Etiolate is to make or become pale for lack of light.

Autarchy means absolute sovereignty. Autarky means self-sufficiency.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous5:57 pm

    Oops! You meant Economist.
    I agree--the words you've never used are not common in English.
    I can't find Hut ab in my German/English dictionary. Is it perhaps the German equivalent of "Right on"?