Words You’re Using Wrong

Here’s a post at Writer Unboxed: More Words You’re Probably Using Wrong

Instant reaction: Oh, I am not.

Second reaction: Who do you think you are, anyway?

Of course, my THIRD reaction is: Sure, I’ll click through just to be able to roll my eyes at your list. So, if getting people to click through was the aim, good job, that’s certainly a title that will get people to do that.

Here’s the first entry on the list:

You don’t “feel badly” for someone, unless you’re trying to have a feeling for them and you just can’t swing it; you simply feel bad for them. (Probably because of their substandard grammar, I’m betting.)

Who knew that? I knew that. On the other hand, sometimes a character may say she feels badly for someone because this is a normal, common phrase in conversation. Unless every character is an English teacher or a literature professor or unusually pedantic, they are likely to say, “I feel so badly for her — what a tough situation she’s facing!” I do agree that the author ought to know that “feel badly” is incorrect (unless someone is inferior at feeling), because sometimes a character IS an English teacher, literature professor, or unusually pedantic. In that case, the character ought to say, “I feel bad for her,” except that this sounds awkward even if it’s right, so in fact they’d probably say, “I feel terrible for her,” which sounds fine and sidesteps the whole issue.

Related: “Hey, Bob, how are you?” is frequently answered with “Good, thanks,” and this is also technically incorrect. Does that ever bother any of you? I personally avoid saying Good in this context. I could say “Fine, thanks,” which is correct, but in fact I usually say “Just peachy” or “Adequate,” or some other phrase that is mildly entertaining. I mean, entertaining to me. I may be amused by odd things.

Ah, here’s one:

While we’re on the topic, “any more” referring to quantity should be two words, not one, in usages such as the last sentence. “Anymore” is only for time, despite that for some philistines these usages are supposedly interchangeable.

And of course that immediately reminds me of “all right,” which is, in the same way, TWO WORDS. TWO. Except that in this case there IS NO EXCEPTION FOR TIME OR ANYTHING ELSE. I just loathe “alright,” and I don’t care if that’s a losing battle because this is a hill I’m willing to die on.

I don’t even know why, to be fair. Why this particular error? Which is practically becoming standard usage? I don’t know, but I detest it. It makes me flinch every. single. time. I see it in print, and because this mistake is so common, that means a lot of flinching in some books.

I may never fully recover from the original publisher of Black Dog changing “all right” to “alright” throughout WITHOUT ASKING ME FIRST. I’m telling you, it was traumatic.

What else? Oh, here’s this one:

Less refers to number; fewer to amount. For that matter, “number” delineates the numeric quantity of something, and “amount” its volume.

And Pete Mack pointed out to me in the comments that the first sentence there is backward! Wow, oops. I didn’t notice when I copy-and-pasted that line, which only goes to show that when you proofread a post, no matter how casually, you should probably proofread the bit you copied as well as the part you wrote yourself.

FEWER refers to number; LESS to amount. Of course it does. FEWER people are in this room now. LESS water is in that pool now. As far as I know, everyone who gets this wrong does it in the same way: by using “less” when it should be “fewer.” That’s why you may hear me murmur “fewer” under my breath when listening to a speaker at any event.

Okay, scanning through the whole thing: I do not use any of these wrong, so there. Of course, that feeling of satisfaction means the post wasn’t a waste of my time, so there’s that.

I feel that for the sake of completeness I should add: my personal struggle with my fingers typing random homonyms continues. In fact, I’m starting to make even worse mistakes, such as typing “type” when I mean “time” or whatever, so that’s ridiculous. I do catch almost all of those instantly, before the back half of the word is on the page, but I do wish whatever part of my brain is responsible for typing correct words would take this sort of thing seriously and cut it out.

You know what else has started to happen? I don’t remember this one in previous eras of my life, but I’m starting to type “has” instead of “had” a nontrivial number of times per book. Like, I don’t know, I think I’ve corrected that particular error maybe half a dozen times in Tasmakat, which I guess would mean something like twice per normal-length book. It’s impossible that this is an actual error, so I think it’s probably another varietiy of the homonym problem. If you’re proofreading for me, I hope you won’t ever see that because I hope I will have caught all those myself. I sure do wince in embarrassment when a proofreader catches something as dire as that, which sometimes does happen. Thank you to all past and future proofreaders for helping me not look totally illiterate!

Despite all the above, I don’t think I will EVER type pique instead of peek or peak, or the other errors showcased by the linked post.

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17 thoughts on “Words You’re Using Wrong”

  1. I’m on book four of the Phantom Badger series, which I’m enjoying, but the copyediting is not good. One particular one is that every single instance of “casual” is spelled “causal”. It is very jarring to read about someone “causally” sauntering down the street.

  2. I’ve seen a draft of a scientific manuscript where the person wrote “pleural” instead of “plural”, which cracked me up.

  3. I’m not using any of those wrong either, and I’m trying to resist grumbling about the assumption that I do. (My main pet peeve, “capitol” for “capital”, isn’t in their list. Nor is “sheathe” which Mercedes Lackey uses all the time to mean “sheath”, the noun.)

  4. Fixed, Irina!

    I can’t be snippy about that one because I accidentally leave the e off “breathe.” My proofreaders catch that, fortunately!

  5. Allan, wow, that’s what Find is for. I can’t believe that isn’t being fixed.

    Camille, pleural! Oops! Ha ha ha! That’s really funny.

  6. Less refers to number; fewer to amount. For that matter, “number” delineates the numeric quantity of something, and “amount” its volume.

    Surely the first part is backwards? I want fewer beans, and less water.

  7. Good Lord above, Pete, how did I miss that? Yes, obviously it’s backwards, and now I wonder if anybody has pointed that out to the person who wrote the post.

    Gotta go amend my own post now that you have pointed this out to me!

  8. My father has a favorite story where his department at an engineering firm had hired a over-qualified secretary with a sense of humor and a degree in English. One of his colleagues had dictated a short manuscript that included the words “oscillates, but fails to converge.”
    She had quietly transcribed it as “osculates, but fails to converse,” leading to much hilarity.

    So not all typos are bad. Or even typos.

  9. Ooh, my pet peeve is ‘tenant’ when people mean ‘tenet’ – or vice versa. Also ‘borne’ and ‘born’. If you’ve borne a son, he’s been born, thanks awfully, and your tenant may make your life difficult if his religious tenets include animal sacrifice! I have seen all of the above misused woefully often in newer articles and books, which leads me to believe that people don’t understand what they’re using. And I do in fact use all of the words in the original post correctly, thank you very much.

  10. I knew everyone here would roll their eyes in unison and declare, “Of course I use all these words correctly, thank you very much.”

    I mostly seem to see “tenant” and “tenet” used incorrectly only after someone points out that this mistake is common. I don’t know, maybe I read over it when I haven’t been primed to see it? Or maybe I don’t usually read the right articles to see these words misused? I will say, it does make me roll my eyes when I see it!

  11. I thought the difference usage of alright/allright and all right was one of those places where English and American language diverge.
    I tend to struggle with the spelling when it’s written as one word; as it is so obviously composed of those two words I keep expecting it to be written as allright, and then get confused as to whether that is the UK spelling or just me being too consistent.

    For me, it feels a bit different in meaning when it’s written separately – all right means there is something that can be referred to as “all”, which can be said to be right. For me, alright as one word translates neatly into “okay”, which is also one word and doesn’t need there to be an “all” to refer to.
    Is that just me, or do others also feel that difference?

    In Dutch alright would be translated as “okay” or “in orde” (literally: in order); while all right demands the translation “helemaal in orde” (completely okay) or “alles in orde” (everything’s okay), so that gives it extra emphasis in my mind even though it’s not always intended so emphatically in English. Maybe that explains the different sense those two ways of writing “all right” make to me.

  12. I wonder if the increase in homologous typing errors you’re experiencing could be the result of so many more hours of typing since you first started being a writer. The longer you train a sequence of movements, the more it gets automated (and often faster, up to a point), because you don’t have to consciously think about making the moves.
    So I wonder if some kind of predictive expectation is at work, like with predictive searching – after this letter often that sequence of letters follow, especially when that sound or that meaning is echoing around in your brain’s neurons too. So depending on whether the sound-memory/voice-related neurons or those from the meaning-retrieval area of the brain are more closely aligned with your finger-movement motor-neurons, your fingers get primed to type the wrong but very familiar sequence before your brain can chase after that impulse with the message “not this time!” – and the more often that mistake happens, the more it gets trained in too.

  13. Hanneke–
    “Alright”, is an interjection, alright? For everything else, “all right” is all right. As far as I know, the king’s English is the same.

  14. Hanneke, I can definitely see wondering about the spelling of “allright.” But for me, “alright” does NOT feel like it means “Okay.” It feels absolutely wrong, and apparently that is never going to wear off.

  15. I do think that sounds reasonable! Neural pathways and predictive errors would make a lot of sense, especially as it’s the sounds at the beginnings of words that are the problem. By the back half, where we would think of the rhyme actually happening, my brain has generally recognized that it’s the wrong word.

    I like that explanation. I think that feels like something that fits my understanding of how the brain might function in some task like typing. Also, it’s better than thinking that getting older has melted my brain, even if the result — weirdness with homonyms and near-homonyms — is kind of the same.

  16. Pete, not that you say that, I guess I feel like “alright” is an interjection that you can get away with in hard-boiled detective novels.

    Everywhere else, it’s just wrong.

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