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Category Archives: Troublesome pairs

Mrs or Ms?

DictionariesI got married recently (hooray!) and when I was buying a new camera to take on our honeymoon, first of all I confused the shop assistant by claiming that the camera was reserved in my new name (Liz Dexter) when my husband had temporarily forgotten he’d married me two days previously and had reserved it in my old name (Liz Broomfield), and then I confused her further, when she was filling in my details on her computer, by stating that my title was “Ms”. She’d never heard of this title, or didn’t know what it signified, and so I thought it would be a handy thing to explain …

Mrs denotes a married woman. English-speaking countries are some of the only places in the world where you can tell whether a woman is married just from her title. Women in opposite-sex and same-sex marriages are free to use this title – some do, some don’t.

Ms denotes a woman. Women in opposite-sex and same-sex marriages are free to use this title – some do, some don’t. You can’t tell if a Ms Dexter is single, married, divorced, separated … anything apart from the fact that she’s a woman. It’s like Mr in that respect.

To get slightly political, people do tend to assume that someone using Ms is not yet married or perhaps divorced. I have no objection to being Mr and Mrs Dexter and to people knowing I am married to Mr Dexter if we meet people out and about and we’re together, or we’re signing up for something in both our names, like the house insurance. But if I’m signing up to a service or buying something independently, I title myself Ms. If more married women do that, maybe eventually we won’t have to have people knowing our marital status when it’s not necessary.

Small print: that’s my choice; I respect people’s right to call themselves whatever they want to call themselves. This post is for informative purposes only. Oh and because I got married!

*Edited to add: please note – this is part of my series of posts on pairs of words which get easily confused and was initiated by my discovery of someone not having any idea what “Ms” meant. This is not any kind of (gender) political manifesto and was intended to provide a light-hearted mention of my recent wedding on my blog, plus to firm up the association of my blog and website with my new name. I’m not trying to incite long and heated discussion on gender politics, naming or patriarchy, or get into long discussions on the background to these two names. Thank you!*

Mrs Liz Dexter

Mrs Liz Dexter

Ms Liz Dexter

Ms Liz Dexter

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You can find more troublesome pairs here and the index to them all so far is here.

 

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Formally or formerly?

DictionariesOne of my readers, Graham, suggested this troublesome pair – I always l like to receive suggestions of pairs to write about, so do drop me a line if you’ve checked the index first and I haven’t written about your favourite!

Formally is an adverb formed from the adjective formal, and means being done by the rules of convention or etiquette, officially recognised, with a conventional structure, form or set of rules. “He replied formally to her gilt-edged invitation”, “I was dressed formally as it was a high-class event run by the establishment!.

Formerly is an adverb that means in the past; before whatever is being discussed now.

“Formerly, for example in the 19th century, social visits were done much more formally, according to established rules and customs. Now everything is much more relaxed and informal, with people dropping in to see each other without having to leave a card in the hall first.”

You can find more troublesome pairs here and the index to them all so far is here.

 

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Phase or faze?

DictionariesI find these two words being mixed up quite commonly, and it’s one of those ones that … I won’t say it annoys me, because I try to remain calm and focused on the sense of the writing in the face of errors, but it sometimes makes me a bit tense.

The incorrect usage is always in one direction of the confusion. I’ll show you what I mean …

A phase is a distinct period of time or stage (“we are doing the building work in three phases: foundations, walls and roof, with gaps to raise money in between”) and it has some complicated scientific meanings which are related to this idea of separateness and which we probably don’t need to go into here.* The verb to phase (in/out) means to carry out a process gradually (“We are phasing in the new hires so everybody doesn’t arrive at once”) and is used in those scientific contexts I talk about below.

What phased does not mean is confused or discombobulated.

To faze is to confuse, disturb or discombobulate – so the past tense is fazed. “I was fazed by the information he was bombarding me with and had to take a break”.

Faze – confuse. Phase – time period or other separate thing.

“I was not fazed when the phases of the traffic lights were altered, because I had read the notices and knew it was about to happen.”

*Oh, alright then, if you insist: in physics, it’s the relationship in time between the cycles of a system and a fixed point in time; in chemistry it’s a distinct form of matter that is separate from other forms in terms of its surface; and in zoology, it’s the variations in an animal’s colouring depending on the seasons or genetics.

You can find more troublesome pairs here and the index to them all so far is here.

 
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Posted by on April 14, 2014 in Errors, Language use, Troublesome pairs, Writing

 

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Appraised or apprised?

DictionariesThis one was suggested by my friend Lyndsey Michaels – thanks, Lyndsey! As she works with tender documents, and both of these are used in formal and business writing, I’m assuming that she’s found that they’ve been mixed up frequently in the raw materials that she’s sent to craft into official documentation.

So, to appraise means to assess the value of somebody or something. You often get a yearly appraisal at work these days, and an antiques expert might appraise a table, for example.

To apprise means to tell or to inform. It’s usually used in a phrase like “She apprised him of the state of the company’s finances”.

Interestingly, there is an archaic word, to apprize or apprise, which does mean specifically to put a price on something. I don’t know whether that meaning has continued in people’s minds, or whether the two would get mixed up anyway.

“He apprised his boss of the auctioneer’s appraisal of the table and suggested that they didn’t bother to sell it after all.”

You can find more troublesome pairs here and the index to them all so far is here.

 

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Draw or drawer?

DictionariesAnecdotally, I’ve noticed that this distinction is starting to get lost or muddled. I can’t give you specific examples, although there is a furniture shop close to where I live with the rather wonderful advert for “chester draws” (I do try not to mock odd use of English, but I rather like the inventiveness of this one, hence sharing it here).

To draw (a verb) is to make marks on paper with a pencil, or on another material with another medium, in order to produce a picture. It also means to drag something along or across (a horse draws a cart, we draw the curtains when we close (or open!) them); to reach a certain point (“we hope that the meeting will draw to an end by 7pm”); to work out (you draw conclusions); to attract attention (“his miming act drew a smaller crowd than he’d expected”) and various other technical things to do with pipes and sails and water.

There is a noun, draw, but this means a process by which a winner of something is selected randomly. (“We will have a draw of the raffle tickets at the end of the fete”), a game that ends in the same score for both sides or, in cricket, where the match has to be abandoned because it can’t be completed in the time allowed (“The match was a draw. Both teams got 1 goal”), or an attraction (“her burlesque act was a  big draw and the variety show made a huge profit”). What it isn’t is anything to do with furniture.

A drawer (a noun) is the slide-out compartment in a piece of furniture, kitchen unit, desk, etc. It’s also a rather old-fashioned word for underpants, a drawer is someone who draws something, and you can be the drawer of a cheque when you write one. But the main use is the one to do with furniture.

“The winner of the prize draw received a beautiful chest of drawers. I’m going to draw a picture of it for the person who donated it, so they can remember it.”

You can find more troublesome pairs here and the index to them all so far is here.

 
 

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Forward or foreword?

DictionariesIn the past two days, both I and a colleague have come across clients sending us the “forwards” to their books, so it’s worth me underlining the correct use of forward and foreword here, I think!

Forward means in the direction that you are facing or in the direction that you are travelling. As an extension, it means travelling or moving onward/ahead (literally or metaphorically – “the convoy moved forward across the plain” / “forward-thinking has enabled us to plan the future”), in the standard order (“the purchasing process is going forward”), and then further advanced than would be expected (“she is forward in her reading”). It has additional meanings of the front of a ship; being a bit bold and over-familiar (“she was very forward and flirted with all of the sailors as she served their drinks”); and sending on a letter from one address to a final destination (“When he was at university, his parents thoughtfully forwarded all of his junk mail to him”).

A foreword, which is the word that our author clients were looking for, is a short introduction to a book, which is usually written by somebody other than the author of the book – a celebrity or someone more experienced in the field.

While the foreword might be considered to go at the forward end of a book, it’s a fore word, as in words that come before.

You can find more troublesome pairs here and the index to them all so far is here.

 

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Illusion or delusion?

DictionariesWhat’s the difference between an illusion and a delusion. In this post in my series of Troublesome Pairs, I’ll explain it to you …

An illusion is a false or deceptive appearance, impression or perception: “He gave the illusion of being able to touch-type: in fact, he stared at the keyboard and typed with two fingers”; “The illusion produced by the smoke and mirrors was very convincing and she thought that she could see the magician in two places at the same time.”

A delusion is an internally produced belief that is not in line with what is generally accepted to be the truth: “He fell prey to the delusion that he was a magnet for women, but put them off with his cheesy chat-up lines”.

You can think of it like this: an illusion is imposed from the outside, while a delusion arises from the inside. I hope that helps!

You can find more troublesome pairs here and the index to them all so far is here.

 

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