Thursday, December 8, 2016

Of Precision I Sing

Zestful Blog Post #188

If you’re a stickler for precise language and spelling, these are dark times. The rise of voice-to-text software, declining literacy rates (at least in the U.S.—I read about it), and the hurried way we often produce and consume words—all of this is adding up. Also, OK, I’m all for STEM. STEM for president. STEM for lucrative, clean-hands jobs. But more emphasis on STEM means less emphasis on literature. I’m sorry, but it does. And it shows. And I grieve.

OK, here are some commonly misused words, with corrections. I am driven to write this today. I know word meanings change over time, often because of sloppy usage. But let us not be part of that hideous process.

Reticent / Reluctant
No:
He was reticent to open the door.
Yes:
He was reluctant to open the door.
No:
She was reticent to speak about what she’d gone through.
Yes:
She was reluctant to speak about what she’d gone through.
Yes:
She was reticent about what she’d gone through.

Reticent means being unwilling to speak; the origin is Latin, for ‘be silent.’
Reluctant means being unwilling to do something.

An announcer said this on the radio yesterday: “But the school principal was accused of flaunting the rules.” No. You flout the rules, you flaunt your six-pack abs at the beach.

Keeping to the ‘f’ theme, let’s look at another pair:

No:
The ship floundered on the reef and was lost.
Yes:
The ship foundered on the reef.
Yes:
He floundered for months, then at last grasped the essence of the theorem.
Yes:
They took control of the foundering company and made it profitable again.

To flounder is to struggle; to founder is to sink.


Again, yesterday. I picked up a package of page tabs in a store—you know, those things like paperclips for marking pages in a book? Was going to buy it until I read on the back that the tabs are ‘discrete’. Put it back. No, the tabs are discreet; they don’t hang out like sticky notes or the like.

So, no:
Roger and Joan were discrete about their affair.
Yes:
Roger and Joan were discreet about their affair.
No:
Each file folder holds a discreet project. (Although, come to think of it, if these were personnel records at a bordello, that could be true.)
Yes:
Each file folder holds a discrete project.

Although the words are related, discreet means to be cautious or even guarded, while discrete simply means separate, individual.

While we’re on homonyms:

No:
The demotion didn’t phase him.
Yes:
The demotion didn’t faze him.
Yes:
That model was phased out in 2011.
Yes:
My dog’s mood seems to depend on the phases of the moon.

To faze is to disrupt or disturb. Phase can be a noun or a verb; a phase is a stage or an episode, while to phase is to execute a sequence.

No:
The governor took a lot of flack for his statement on low-fat butter.
Yes:
The governor took a lot of flak for his statement on low-fat butter.

Flak is anti-aircraft fire from ground positions; the metaphorical meaning is severe criticism. A flack is a publicist or promoter.

Thank you so much for your attention to these matters.

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5 comments:

  1. English, you've got to love it. Is there a book you could recommend that lists all these tricky words? You caught me on one of these. I'm hoping to learn more.

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  2. Pat, thanks for stopping by. That's a good question but I fear I don't have a good answer for it. Anybody else?

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  3. Abstruse v. obtuse: Both are used in You've Got Mail!

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  4. I enjoy reading an article that will make men and women think.

    Also, thanks for allowing for me to comment!

    ReplyDelete

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