Friday, 22 July 2011

Confusing couples (4)

Spelling all English words correctly all the time can be a challenge. One of the reasons for this is the existence of homophones (words that sound the same but are spelt differently) that have developed over the centuries. In many cases, however, so-called incorrect spelling has more to do with using the incorrect word than with not knowing how to spell the correct one; in such cases simply thinking carefully about, and paying attention to, the face-value meaning should go a long way (not necessarily all the way) towards ensuring correctness, as today’s examples will show.  

·         Chartered and (un)charted
Sometimes people write “I found myself in unchartered territory” (usually meaning it in a figurative sense and referring to having found themselves in an unfamiliar situation). But to use unchartered here is incorrect. To map an area is to chart it; an unmapped area is therefore uncharted, not unchartered.

The hiring of an aircraft or boat for a particular purpose is called chartering. Such a craft is called a chartered craft, and the journey concerned is therefore a chartered trip (e.g. a chartered flight), not a charted one (in most normal contexts).

·         Close and closed
One sometimes sees notices outside shops publicising the fact that “close circuit” technology is used there for surveillance purposes. But it should be “closed-circuit”, of course. Even an electronic non-expert like me would understand a “closed circuit” to mean that the cameras and monitoring screens are connected in a kind of closed loop by cables, or perhaps some wireless device, and are confined to that limited application or area – they are not part of a more “open” system, where images are transmitted to, say, TV screens in people’s homes. It would make little sense to call such an installation a “close” circuit.

Sometimes a bit of research may be necessary if we want to know why certain words are the way they are. I used to wonder about the word close in close corporation, for example, convinced that it should be closed corporation (i.e. not open, or publicly traded). When I went into it, however, I discovered that close was simply a different way of saying closely held.

Pay attention and take the time to use a dictionary … My mantra, pretty much – both to myself (constantly!) and for others to heed in the pursuit of "tidiness" and zero defect.


Amanda said...

Very good advice! Rushing through life not knowing what you are saying is definitely sad. We have a Close Corp and I never thought about it much. Michael and I often chat about the meaning of words. And it is definitely worth slowing down and enjoying the process. Thanks for sharing and reminding me of this :)

gillthebean said...

I've seen "cover charge" and "covert charge" used to refer to a fee you pay to enter a night club. :) Which is correct, Nicky?

Nicky said...

Hi Gill, sorry I've been so slack about getting back to you.

It can be "couvert charge" or "cover charge", but modern English favours "cover charge".

"Covert charge" is wrong - "covert" is used mostly in the sense of "secret", "undisclosed", as in "covert operations".

So my guess is "covert charge" is either a contamination of the two correct forms, or a misspelling of "couvert".

Does this seem to make sense?

Thanks for asking!