Thursday, 14 July 2011

Confusing couples (3)

Here are a few more pairs of words that people sometimes confuse.

·         Disinterested/uninterested: The opposite of interested is uninterested, not disinterested. It is incorrect to say “I am really quite disinterested in politics – it bores me to tears.” Disinterested means "neutral". For example, someone who mediates between two parties that have strong vested interests in a certain matter has to be a disinterested person, i.e. someone with no (vested) interests.

·         Alternative/alternate: The latter, when used as an adjective, refers either to the characteristic of alternating between two things (e.g. a pattern may be made up of alternate squares and circles) or the characteristic of being on opposite sides of something (e.g. in mathematics, alternate angles are angles on opposite sides of a line). Something that is described as "alternative", on the other hand, is a mutually exclusive option (e.g. a road that enables you to avoid a toll road is an alternative [not alternate] route).

·         Home/hone: You may sometimes have read that a company wants to “hone” in on a certain market, or that a speaker wants to “hone” in on a particular section of an audience. This is wrong; it should be “home in” (as in the case of missiles and homing pigeons). The word hone means “sharpen” – whether in a literal or in a figurative sense. In the latter sense one may speak, for example, of honing one’s skills through training or practice.

·         Homogeneous/homogenous: Homogeneous (pronounced “homo-jea-neous”) is a synonym for uniform (e.g. a suburb could be said to have a homogeneous population if most of the people are of the same socio-economic class). Homogeneous is the opposite of heterogeneous. Homogenous, on the other hand (pronounced with emphasis on -mo-), is a term used in various natural sciences. In biology, for example, it may be used to refer to things that correspond in structure because of having the same origin. According to the Concise Oxford Dictionary it is an "old-fashioned" term, the modern equivalent being homologous. 

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