Tag Archives: word usage

Do you loath or do you loathe

A writer wants, no needs, no Must, get the right word for the right meaning. And many words can easily finds their way into a sentence where they do not belong. Loath, for instance, means unwilling or reluctant, as in “I am loath to go to Seattle Seahawk game and watch them self destruct once again in the fourth quarter.” Loathe, on the other hand means to dislike greatly or abhor, as in,  “I loathe to go to a Seattle Seahawk game and watch them self destruct once again in the fourth quarter.” 

As you can see, sometimes different words can  have the same meaning at times. I can loath and loathe at the same time for the same reason.

But there are more problem words. Let’s try again. Illegible and unreadable are not the same thing. Illegible means the document can not be read because the handwriting is so poor it is undecipherable. Unreadable can’t be read because what was written is not interesting, or incomprehensible, that it makes no sense, even though you can read the words.

The other day I was bugged with the ‘which word is it’ problem when I wanted to write the word that means the origin of words. But I typed ‘entomology’ and that is the study of insects. It drove me buggy because I could not think of the correct word-it is etymology. You can see how easy it is to confuse those two words. Those words are troublesome, but not as bad as capitol or capital.

But words do not have to sound similar, as illegible and unreadable indicate. If you think humorous and comical mean the same, sorry, they have different meanings. I will let you research those words and I will quiz you later.

I bring all this up as another example of proofreading problems. It is more than spelling, more than grammar, more than punctuation. It is also, and arguably more important, to get the right word with the right meaning in the right sentence. You might be legible in your writing, but if you confuse the reader too much you become unreadable. I hope this blog is not confusing you.

I will leave with the problem of ‘is and are.’ Is means singular as in he is, she is, or it is. Are is plural as in ‘we are’. However, when the subject is elusive, it is the authors discretion to use either word. In other words, two times three IS six and two times three ARE six are both correct.

I don’t know how I can learn a foreign language when I am still trying to figure out English.

My legible website

My hopefully readable e-books at Amazon

 

 

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Baseball’s Hall of Fame teach writers a grammar lesson

Who knew?

The English language has a dictionary full of words with meanings, but unless you are a word savant, it is easy to mistake, misuse, or error in using certain words.

Case in point is the recent Hall of Fame induction of Greg Maddux, one of the best pitchers in baseball history. The ungrammatical passage on the plaque that will be in the Hall for all to read throughout eternity or the apocalypse, whichever comes first, reads,  “…3,000 strikeouts and less than 1,000 walks.” 

Unless a few eagle-eyed word savants pointed it out I would think nothing of it. I understand what the passage means, it makes sense to me. However, the word “less” is incorrect. The correct word is “fewer.” Both words mean “not as many,” but the words are used in different contexts. Fewer should be used with countable items, like walks in the offending passage. It should read “fewer than 1,000 walks.” My book “Which Word When” says that “less” is to be used for plural numbers when they deal with distance and amounts.” The examples cited are “less than four miles”  and “less than a hundred dollars.”

 I understand the importance of using the correct word. When we use the right words in writing and speaking we are clearly understood-or at least have a better chance of it-but is pointing out the error by the Hall of Fame nitpicking? I think so.

The book I cited also adds this: “Despite all these rules-or perhaps because of them-many people use “less” when they should use “fewer” and vice versa and have been doing so for a thousand years. But they are still not interchangeable.”

I love the last sentence. After saying in essence, people have been using the wrong word for centuries, they throw in the reminder  that it is still wrong. It is like the fact that everyone jaywalks from time to time, but a policeman stops you and  tells you it is still wrong. Does it really mean anything?

Language is fluid, it changes, words take on different meanings. A few years ago there was no such word as “selfie” now it is being added to dictionaries. The word “gay” meant something different a few decades ago than it does today. I realize I am citing words, not grammar, and though I will try to use the correct word, be it “less’ or “fewer” I will not beat myself up if I get it wrong. I have been getting it wrong for a thousand years, yet I believe I have been understood, except by fewer than 100 English teachers.

I will not object to those who wish to purchase one of my e-novels and point out to me my grammatical errors. All of us need help, even the Hall of Fame.

http://www.amazon.com/Terry-Nelson/e/B00EEVHN38

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