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Confusing Words

Let's face it - English is a crazy language. There is no egg in eggplant, nor ham in hamburger; neither apple nor pine in pineapple. English muffins weren't invented in England or French fries in France. Sweetmeats are candies while sweetbreads, which aren't sweet, are meat. We take English for granted. But if we explore its paradoxes, we find that quicksand can work slowly, boxing rings are square and a guinea pig is neither from Guinea nor is it a pig..

English is an organic, evolving and democratic world language because it is so forgiving.  Words constantly change their meaning by sloppy misuse.  Dr Samuel Johnson attempted to anchor our language by publishing his dictionary in 1755. Even then most lexicographers still use common usage to determine contemporary meanings.

The English language has evolved over more than a thousand years and words have come and gone with many changing their meanings, sometimes opposite to what they originally meant.  It is through written literature from Beowolf, Chaucer and Shakespeare we can trace the changes.

             “For last year’s words belong to last year’s language

              And next year’s words await another voice”   T.S Eliot, Four Quartets

             Words strain

             Crack and sometimes break, under the burden

             Under the tension, slip, slide, perish,

             Decay with imprecision, will not stay in place,

             Will not stay still………T.S. Eliot notes in “Burnt Norton”  - Four Quartets:

"When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean -- neither more nor less."

"The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things."

"The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be master - - that's all."    (Through the Looking Glass, Chapter 6)


Some of the following words are constantly misused in general communication. While it may be pedantic, there are  distinctions, worthwhile preserving.  If we lose them, the English language becomes the poorer for it.

It's not "Without further adieu." It's "Without further ado." Ado means fuss. Adieu means goodbye.

It’s not “fulsome praise”.  It’s full of praise.  

Fulsome means insincere flattery, empty platitudes. Fulsome is a word that is constantly misused. It does not mean full or complete. The dictionary definition of fulsome is “unpleasantly and excessively suave or ingratiating in manner or speech”. Other synonyms are cloying and insincere.

“To beg the question” Assume the point you are attempting to find out.  Ex: “Have you stopped beating your wife?”  Assumes that you beat her in the first place when this is not proven.   This is not the same as to

Put (raise or ask) the question”

Stake-holder:

  1. (in gambling) an independent party with whom each of those who make a wager deposits the money or counters wagered.
  2.  person with an interest or concern in something, especially a business.

Disinterestedimpartial, detached or uninvolved.

Uninterested - not interested, unconcerned, indifferent

Less            - Used for amounts that cannot be counted

Fewer         - Used for amounts that can be counted.

We have less money because we have fewer dollars and cents.

We have fewer teachers because of less education.

Arrant         - downright, complete, utter

Errant         - roving, erring,

Imply          - to suggest

Infer            - to interpret an implication

National chief correspondent of The Oz Hedley Thomas, wrote to say that: "Crikey has tried hard to paint another false picture of journalism at The Australian by inferring that reporters at The Oz lack independence from Chris Mitchell."

No. We did so by implying (suggesting) it, not inferring (i.e. interpreting, coming to the belief) it. Quite possibly we did infer it, but that was not the process by which we communicated it. An elementary error which no journalist should commit. Hedley Thomas:  Crikey June, 26, 2011. 

Ingenious    - clever, brilliant inventions,

Ingenuous   - open, frank, honest


Inventive     - finding new discoveries

Innovative   - applying new discoveries in different ways

Moot           - debatable, not absolute

Mute           - silent, dumb, unable or unwilling to speak

Effect    - noun, the result of an action

Affect          - verb, the action - to influence.

Artists       -  creative and imaginative ability to make music, painting, sculptures, stories

Artisans - trained and skilled in a craft – specialised tradesmen.


Discrete      - distinct, separate, individual

Discreet      - trustworthy, able to keep confidences, judicious, prudent, circumspect

Immoral      - wrong. evil

Amoral        - neutral, inanimate, neither good or bad

Elicit           - to draw out a response, evoke

Illicit           - wrong, unlawful

Civility        - amiable, pleasant, well mannered

Servility      - obedient, cringing, slavish, submissive

Judicial       - proper by court official – a judge

Judicious    - discreet, sound in judgement, prudent

Allusion      - reference to well known identity

Illusion       - figment of the imagination

Elevationmetres above sea level on land.

Altitude -    metres above sea level in the air.

Caustic       – critical, biting, sarcastic as in an alkaline solution.

Vitriolic       - “                “                  “        ““  “   acidic           “        .

In jest you could neutralise a caustic comment with a vitriolic reply.

The following words are close in meaning but with important distinctions:

Assertive              - quiet, forceful, insistent claim to one’s rights or opinions.

Aggressive           - forceful attacking offensive claim to rights/opinions.

Reaction               - instinctive reflexive or visceral response – knee jerk.

Response              - considered, reflective thoughtful or deliberated response.


Reflexive - without consideration - automaton

Reflective - due consideration - thoughtful


Right                     - entitlement that cannot be taken away - inviolable

Privilege               - entitlement granted under trust


Revenge:              - a personal subjective, impulsive reaction

Avenge:                - a considered response in pursuit of social justice.

Further: - more of

Farther: measure of distance or length


Familiarity            - objective understanding of outward features

Intimacy                - subjective intrinsic interaction

Simple                  - Easy to do or understand

Simplistic             - Lack of complexity or sophistication, a distortion of truth

Enormity               - of a problem should be the

Magnitude             - of the problem. 

Fortunate              - lucky, auspicious, favoured by fortune

Fortuitous             - accidental, caused by chance

Trouper -  member of a group of traveling entertainers - reliable, dependable

Trooper -  member of cavalry or mounted police.  - courageous 


Erotic                     - arousing sexual intimacy

Pornographic       – arousing sexual gratification

Lying                    - to be prone as in lying on a bed.

Laying                   - act of laying a carpet or an egg.

Cache                   - storing computer files, or hiding guns (or even burying food under the snow for the journey back)

Cachet                  - "style" or "distinction" or "prestige

Censure               - official condemnation

Censor                 - suppressing or banning offensive or content.

Sensor                  - detection device


Than 
           - shows comparison       

Then            -  indicates sequence

Councillor             - member of a council

Counsellor           - analyst, advisor, therapist

Imminent,             - it is destined to happen e.g. "the imminent sunset."

Eminent                -can refer to a person of high rank or repute: "an eminent king," or anything that noticeably pokes out like "an eminent nose."

Immanent:            - it is inherent or inborn.

Will your immanent linguistic eminence shine through when you use these words correctly? Of course, it's imminent!

Breech.                 -put pants on it, or gives birth to it in a peculiarly distressing way, or something like that:

 Breach                 - to violate, infringe, contravene.

Public Interest -  Information needed by the public to form informed decisions.

Public Curiosity  -  Titillation, prurient or salacious material to sensationalize news

Gourmand:            - a derogatory word for gorging - a glutton.

Gourmet:              - a foodie, a connoisseur - to savor good food and wine.

Fanciful:               - whimsical, unrealistic, ungrounded

Imaginative:         - creative, lateral thinking, creative, visionary, inspired, insightful, inventive, resourceful, ingenious, enterprising;

Weathercocks      - spin in direction of public opinion

Signposts             - stand true, and tall, and principled.

Pedantry               - apply a rule to a letter, rigidly, unquestioningly

Mastery                 - apply a rule with natural ease, with judgement

Authoritative        -  highly respected, regarded or revered

Authoritarian        - imperious, bossy, bullying

An existential threat.

Hillary Clinton stated that Pakistan's fragile government is facing an "existential threat", from Islamic militants who are now operating within a few hours of the capital. Just what is an "existential threat" supposed to be?

Jan Freeman put it so nicely writing in the Boston Globe last year, to "Sartre in a Left Bank cafe or Woody Allen on a psychiatrist's couch, pondering (or suffering) the struggle to create an authentic self in an indifferent and purposeless universe."

Clearly that is not what the American Secretary of State has in mind nor is it what former Vice President Dick Cheney meant when he declared of the war on terror that "this is an existential conflict" that must be won.

The philosophy Kierkegaard founded has been reduced by politicians like these.


The difference between pain and suffering?

Pain is always there, but suffering is a choice.”  Orange is the new Black

"BSD acquired rather more cache than the family-friendly 'Masters of the Universe'...."

The word is "cachet" (pronounced "cashay"). Therefore, nothing to do with storing computer files, or hiding guns (or even burying food under the snow for the journey back from the North Pole). It means "style" (in this context). The issue is not correctness per se, it's about conveying the meaning you want to convey. And I do think you meant something like "style" or "distinction" or "prestige".

 "Criteria" are plural unlike "criterion" (um ... that would be "singular", 


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