There are No Language Police
Let’s get that out of the way, fast. Language changes over time, and some words that used to be considered “wrong” are now accepted as variants. So, given enough time, all the mistakes you’ve probably been making will be okay. But for now, you might want to keep this guide handy and refer to it once in awhile when you need to be correct.
Just Relax, Don’t Rage
We misuse words all the time. Whether it’s because we’ve never stopped to think about what we’re actually saying (duck tape, anyone?) or because we sincerely don’t have a nautical background and had no idea where to begin (car careening off the road, taking a different tact?) we misuse words constantly.
The fact that some of your misuses will send listeners into a heated rage isn’t your fault. Light some incense and chill out. Namaste. Stephen Fry, the British comedian, does a great job of showing how very relaxed he is about language use as quoted in this NPR article about “less versus fewer”
“When asked to join in a ‘let’s persuade this supermarket chain to get rid of their 5 items or less sign,’ I never join in. Yes, I am aware of the technical distinction between less and fewer and between uninterested and disinterested and infer and imply and all the rest of them. But none of these are of importance to me. None of these are … of importance I said there, you’ll notice. The old pedantic me would have insisted on ‘none of them is’ of importance. But i’m glad to say I’ve outgrown that silly approach to language.”
The Top Five Words That Make You Sound Stupid
There, it has been said. These words, when you say them, make you sound ignorant. I’m not saying you are ignorant, and people who judge you based on these words need to relax a little. But really: Stop misusing these words.
1. Irregardless — It’s regardless.
2. Refudiate — Just kidding. You must know this is wrong.
3. Expresso — It’s espresso. For some reason (perhaps they’re over caffeinated?), espresso-drinkers really get infuriated by this one.
4. Conversate — The thing is, sometimes we do need to invent a new word. In this case, though, we already have one: converse.
5. “Intensive” purposes — Intents and purposes.
The Top Five (Groups of) Words That are Just Simple Mistakes
Lawd have mercy. Most of the time when the following mistakes are made, the person was just typing too fast. Relax. Okay?
1. Too, two, and to
2. They’re, their, and there
3. Its versus it’s
4. except and accept
5. Then and than
Actually, though, having said that…if you truly don’t know the difference in the above words, you should definitely learn this. Here is a quick guide to help you out, thanks to Wikipedia.
The Top Five Words That Are Changing Meaning
We’ve misused the following words so often that (voila!) their meaning has actually changed. Wait around long enough, and more will be added to this list…
1. Lie and lay — Hard to believe, but true. People have begun to accept either form. It’s still incorrect to use “lay” as present tense for the intransitive, but we’re changing fast.
2. Hone in — I’m conceding. The battle is lost. Hone in on is now considered a correct variant of home in on. Still raging a little
3. Less and fewer — William Saffire fought for this one, but after decades of battle, it’s time to relax and admit that we all know what it meant when we stand in the grocery line that says “10 items or less”.
4. further and farther — Yes, farther relates to actual distance, but who cares?
5. Peruse — Everyone uses peruse to mean “skim”, so that’s basically what it means now. Don’t worry about it!
What do you think? Are there any of these you disagree with? Let us know!