“The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter—it’s the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.”
— Mark Twain
Recently I stopped reading a book by a new-to-me author because (a) I wasn’t caught right off by the opening, and (b) the author used the word “ineptness.”
“Ineptness.” You know, we actually have a word for that characteristic. The word the author was looking for was “ineptitude.” Making up “ineptness” implies an inadequate vocabulary or suggests the author has no real feel for the English language. Not that I never forget the word I’m looking for, that certainly does happen, but I hope I generally know there IS the right word in my brain somewhere even if I can’t quite fish it out into the open at that particular moment.
This is different, but you know what you see all the time this decade (probably longer)? People keep using “addicting” when they mean “addictive” and “deceiving” when they mean “deceptive” and so on.
Here is a correct sentence using deceiving: “He got in trouble for deceiving his clients about the sound financial foundation of his business.”
Here is a correct sentence using deceptive: “He got in trouble because he was deceptive. He lied to his clients about the sound financial …”
We have BOTH a gerund form / past participle form AND an adjective form of lots of words. When what a writer is looking for is an adjective form, why, there it is! There is no need to press the -ing form into awkward service. Though this kind of thing is not on my top-ten pet peeve list, I guess, I do wish people would stop doing that.
Incorrect, or at least unnecessarily awkward: “Were you out last night, by any chance?” he asked with deceiving casualness.
Especially awkward since we do actually have a word for “casualness.” Several words (and phrases), each of which may very well suit the scene better than “casualness.”
“Were you out last night, by any chance?” he asked with deceptive nonchalance.
“Were you out last night, by any chance?” he asked with deceptive lack of concern.
“Were you out last night, by any chance?” he asked with deceptive indifference.
It’s not that you can’t, or even shouldn’t, use “casualness.” I guess it could be a perfect choice for some sentences, though at the moment I can’t frame a sentence that would benefit from a -ness form when we have perfectly good words like complacence and incuriosity and heaven knows what else sitting right there.
There’s my quibble for the week. Perhaps I will start a new feature: Grammar Quibble Friday.