“Words You’re Probably Using Wrong”

That’s the title of this post at Writers Unboxed: Words You’re Probably Using Wrong

My first thought was: That’s a lousy title for this post. Who do you even think you are?

My second thought: That’s a great title for this post, because I’m absolutely going to click through and sneer at the list of words I am absolutely not using wrong.

So I did. Here’s my conclusion: I’m not using those words wrong, and it’s a bad idea to stick “you” in this kind of title unless the post is intended to be at least mildly offensive.

Lay vs Lie, really? First, I don’t make mistakes with those words, and second, why are you mentioning those and not Set vs Sit, which is just as commonly a source of confusion in exactly the same way?

Whom vs Who. I almost never make mistakes with those, but I grant, occasionally I do. This post does point at the most likely source of errors here, which is nested clauses where “whoever” is taking the subject role even though the whole clause is the object. I mean, like this:

“[You] should give this sealed envelope to [whoever knocks three times and says Joe sent him.]”

And yes, occasionally I’ll put “whomever” in a construction like that, though I generally catch it before proofreaders do.

The question for me is more: Would this character say “who” even though it should be “whom?” Usually that’s clear, but sometimes it isn’t. Lord Aras would never make who/whom errors. Neither would Ryo. They both speak formally, though in such different styles. But Esau? When this came up in Keraunani, I used the correct “whom” form, even though I’m not sure whether Esau would have said “who” in that sentence. That’s because I default to more correct when there is any doubt, on the grounds that if there is doubt, then correctness is usually more invisible than anything incorrect.

Anyway, you can click through to the post in question, but I doubt very much that any of my commenters mistakes phase for faze, or any of the rest of this random list of confusable words.

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5 thoughts on ““Words You’re Probably Using Wrong””

  1. I’m not their ‘you’ either. I never get any of *those* wrong. And my own pet peeves (capital/capitol, sheath/sheathe) aren’t even there.

  2. Camille McAloney

    It’s a bit of a silly post! I’ve seen “straight-laced” more than “straitlaced” and had never even seen the word “jell” before. I don’t give much thought to the whole lay/lie and who/whom but to be fair, I’m not a professional writer. Honestly the only ones I think people might regularly be concerned about mixing up are “pour” and “pore”, if only because the latter has multiple meanings with that spelling.

  3. I’ve been seeing a lot of bear/bare confusion lately.

    Oh! I also saw a new word used properly! Saccade, which means eyes jumping from one thing to another. It only worked because it was someone else observing and it fit that POV’s register, but still.

  4. I had an editor correct “fall down” to “fall” and I was irked. It’s not /wrong/ and it sounds /right/ and gosh darn it whose book is it anyway?

    The word I see most often used incorrectly is “surety” — about 90% of the time it’s on the page, I want to say “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

    On the plus side, that reminds me of the Princess Bride, which is always a good thing :)

  5. I see what strike me as “might/may” mistakes all the time in recent work. To the point I’m afraid the distinction will just be lost.

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