Thursday, 7 July 2011

Confusing couples (2)

The child who wrote “Solomon had three hundred wives and seven hundred porcupines” (see last week’s “Write thinking”) was clearly confusing porcupines (a word he/she knew) with concubines (a word presumably strange to him/her).

There are words that even some adults get confused – words which have clearly never been sorted out in their minds, perhaps because they have not frequently heard or seen the words used correctly, or perhaps because teachers, parents or friends have never had (or made use of) opportunities to correct them.

For example, a recent letter in the Witness spoke of students being “weary of something instead of “wary” of it. 

Perhaps you know people who confuse the words in the following pairs:

·         Affect/Effect (as verbs): To affect means approximately the same as to influence, e.g.: Too little studying will usually affect [not effect] a student’s results. To effect means to bring about, e.g.: The new committee effected many changes.

·         Flaunt/flout: “People have no respect for law and order nowadays; they just flaunt the rules to their hearts’ content.” Right? Wrong. When you disregard advice, a rule or a law, or treat it with contempt, you flout it. To flaunt something means to show it off, to display it.

Two “morals of the story”:

1. We should never be complacent about the use of words, but rather keep our ears and eyes open and be conscious of words that sound similar but mean totally different things.

2. We should never, never ever be without a dictionary or be too lazy to use it! For those who do most of their writing on their PCs, and particularly for those who are frequently online, it’s so easy nowadays with online dictionaries – no excuses.

P.S. A word that is the wrong word to use in a particular context is called a malapropism.   –ws–

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