Thursday, 30 June 2011

Confusing couples (1)

I recently received an e-mail containing examples of what purport to be “actual answers given by children in 5th and 6th grade ages on history tests and in Sunday school quizzes in Ohio”. A sample:

·         Ancient Egypt was inhabited by gypsies and mummies who all wrote in hydraulics.
·         Moses went up on Mount Cyanide to get the ten commandos.
·         Solomon had three hundred wives and seven hundred porcupines.
·         Julius Caesar extinguished himself on the battlefields of Gaul.
·         Sir Francis Drake circumcised the world with a 100-foot clipper, which was very dangerous for his men.
·         The nineteenth century was a time of a great many inventions. People stopped reproducing by hand and started reproducing by machine.

We might laugh at these schoolkid blunders, but we adults get things wrong too, like confusing gist and just and thinking gamut should be gambit (see post titled “Hypercorrection”, 3 June 2011). Just the other day I edited a document in which the author wrote that students were “clambering” (instead of “clamouring”) for certain courses to be introduced somewhere.

Here are two more pairs of words regarding which confusion sometimes occurs:

·         Economic/economical. Economic refers to anything relating to economics (e.g. the economic climate, the government’s economic policy); economical, on the other hand, is (roughly speaking) a synonym for cost-effective, financially sensible, reasonably priced (e.g. in: It is sometimes more economical to buy in bulk).

·         Historic/historical. An event of particular significance is said to be historic (e.g. in contexts like these: a historic meeting took place between Pres. ABC and Mr XYZ; the inauguration of Nelson Mandela as the first president of a democratic South Africa was a historic occasion). Historical simply refers to something related to history, without necessarily implying that the event was particularly important (e.g. a certain event may be analysed from a historical perspective as opposed to, say, a sociological or an economic one; a character in a novel may be said to be a historical figure as opposed to, say, a mythical or a fictitious one).

A few more pairs next time …   –ws–

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