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Category Archives: Language use

Everyday or every day?

Everyday or every day?

It’s Troublesome Pairs time and this one was suggested by my friend Greg, who had spotted a whole record label which might need some proofreaders.

I need to stress here that he shared it out of interest and as an example of a troublesome pair I hadn’t yet covered, and he knows I would never laugh at an error (unless I made it) because I’m here to help people express themselves. I will often have more experience of the rules and usage of English than the people who come to me for my editing and proofreading services, and more experience of the rules and usage of British English than the people who come to me for my localisation services, but that doesn’t make me in any way “better” than them. I really hate it when people talk about “grammar nazis” and think I will tut and frown if I see an error in a comment or on a sign, although I’m all for educating people and showing them how these distinctions I make in this series of articles help people to get their meaning across more clearly. But I try not to laugh or point, as it’s not my style (and isn’t the style of most of my edibuddies, either).

Anyway, rant over.

Everyday is an adjective or noun referring to the mundane, the usual, things that happen, well, every day. So “We expect you to carry out everyday tasks with cheerfulness and efficiency”. “I got sick of the everyday and wanted to try something different and more varied”.

Every day is a phrase which means “on all days”, “each day”. So, “I expect you to check the visitor numbers every day”, “Every day, my everyday jobs became more dull”.

It’s often used incorrectly on signs, etc, “New offers everyday”, but I’ve not seen the reverse used incorrectly.

You can find more troublesome pairs here, and here’s the index to them all!

 
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Posted by on November 22, 2017 in Errors, Language use, Troublesome pairs

 

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Marten or martin?

This Troublesome Pair is another animal one, so it kind of goes with mink or minke and maybe even mandrel or mandrill. So, what is the difference between a marten and a martin? Well, one of them’s an animal and one of them’s a bird …

The marten is the animal – it’s the weaselly mammal that lives in the coniferous and northern deciduous forests of Europe, Asia and North America. I call them weaselly; they aren’t weasels, but they are related to weasels, mink and ferrets, as well as wolverines and badgers (I didn’t know a wolverine was a real thing. I feel a wolf or wolverine post coming on now!).  In the UK, we have pine martens in Scotland and there’s a European pine marten too, as well as a Japanese variety.

The martin, then, is the bird. The name is used for a subset of the swallow family, which are found all around the world, apart from on Antarctica. There’s a very detailed Wikipedia article about how exactly the swallows are divided up into river martins and everything else – we probably know house martins and sand martins best, but there’s a lot of them around. Apparently, house and purple martins have developed a habit of only nesting around houses and in special nesting boxes, so hardly ever nest truly in the wild any more.

So, no pine martins or house martens, please!

You can find more troublesome pairs here, and here’s the index to them all!

 
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Posted by on November 1, 2017 in Errors, Language use

 

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Mink or minke?

This Troublesome Pair was suggested to me by my friend Julia quite a while ago – thank you! I’m always open to suggestions! Oh, and do you like the new picture for these posts – now I have managed to capture all my new editions in all their glory?

So, two animal words (and I feel some more coming on, now I’ve thought of these).

A mink is a semi-aquatic carnivore which is a bit like a stoat, and is unfortunately bred for its fur. It has Eurasian and North American variants, and the word is used to describe the fur, too. I’m sad now, thinking about poor fur-farmed animals. Moving on, no arguing about the plural, because it can be mink OR minks! Shocking!

A minke is a type of whale – a rorqual whale in fact. It’s grey on top and white underneath, and apparently the name only originates from the 1930s. A rorqual whale is a baleen whale which has pleated skin on its underneath, and the group includes fin, blue and humpback whales. A baleen whale is one of the ones with the whalebone sieve in its mouth to filter food. I’m going to stop there …

You can find more troublesome pairs here, and here’s the index to them all!

 
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Posted by on October 4, 2017 in Errors, Language use

 

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Disc or disk?

Disc or disk?

I will have to re-do this picture soon. I now have a new “New Oxford Style Manual”, a new “Concise Oxford English Dictionary” and a new “AP Stylebook” AND my new “Chicago Manual of Style” should be arriving tomorrow. Time for a new photo then, I think.

Anyway, it’s Troublesome Pairs time and I had to check this one just in case the other day when I was doing a transcription – really, we don’t use these words very often now that computers don’t use floppy disks any more, and although vinyl records are a ‘thing’ again, they tend to be referred to as ‘vinyls’ rather than ‘discs’. Oops, I’ve given the game away already, haven’t I!

So, just to spell it all out for future reference …

A disc is a flat round thing (also used metaphorically, for example for the Sun, which is obviously really a sphere) and is the spelling used for the kind of disc that is a record. I think a disc only has to be flatter than it’s round to be a disc, because you get discs of cartilage in your spine which can slip.

A disk is the computer kind of item. It contains a disc on which data can be magnetically or optically stored (the latter including CD-ROMs).

And just to confuse, in the UK you can spell both with a k, and then you have to work out which it is from the context.

The talk of the first kind of disc got me thinking about cylinders. These have straight sides and an oval or circular cross-section, so in effect a disc is a kind of cylinder as long as it has some kind of three dimensional existence.

You can find more troublesome pairs here, and here’s the index to them all!

 
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Posted by on September 20, 2017 in Errors, Language use, Troublesome pairs

 

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Troublesome words – refusenik

Troublesome words – refusenik

I try not to be an over-prescriptive fuss-pot when it comes to language,* believing the important thing is clarity and accepting things change with them, while obviously, as I do here, trying to share examples where, say, there are two different words that mean subtly different things and thus should be retained and used. I know people get very cross about the use of words like “decimate”, and when I get a little bit cross about things, as with swathe or swath a while ago, I try to remember to make a point of looking them up and finding out whether our big dictionary sources back me up, or not!

Here is a (perhaps more obscure) case in point. I keep hearing the word refusenik being used to describe someone who is actively refusing to do something, usually to prove a point or in some form of protest. School uniform refuseniks and the like. I knew the term in its original meaning, which is the highly specific one describing Jewish people in the former Soviet Union who were refused to be allowed to emigrate to Israel. I kind of expanded this in my mind to incorporate all people whose exit from a place is refused. The emphasis here is on the fact that they are being refused exit – someone else is doing the refusing and they are the passive objects of the refusal (grammatically speaking).

But I checked my sources, and there we are: a refusenik is perfectly able to simultaneously be someone who refuses to do something out of principle and someone who is refused exit.

** Did you notice the at least three rules I have broken in this post to prove my point about not being fussy?

 

 
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Posted by on August 31, 2017 in Be careful, Language use, Writing

 

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irrupt or erupt?

irrupt or erupt?

 

This one was suggested by my husband, a keen birdwatcher (see below for why that’s relevant) and adder of troublesome pairs to my list.

Erupt is perhaps the better-known of the two. To erupt is to forcefully throw out rocks, lava, gas and ash, if you’re a volcano. The next meaning is to break out suddenly, usually used of something like a fight, and similarly, you can erupt into laughter, meaning it happens suddenly and forcefully. Finally, a spot or rash erupts when it appears suddenly on the skin, and a tooth erupts through a gum when it grows in your mouth and becomes visible.

To irrupt, also a verb, means to burst into somewhere, to enter suddenly or even forcibly. The kind of thing people do when they break down a door. Interestingly, I’ve seen people being described as “erupting” in this sense, but let’s use irrupt here if we can, to preserve those two senses, yes? The second (and husband-relevant) meaning is to migrate into an area in large – that’s abnormally large – numbers, and it’s especially used of birds. So when an awful lot of waxwings descended on some trees with berries in a Birmingham car park, that was them irrupting. Or an irruption.

You can find more troublesome pairs here, and here’s the index to them all!

 
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Posted by on August 16, 2017 in Errors, Language use

 

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Surfeit or surplus?

Surfeit or surplus?

This Troublesome Pair was suggested to me by my husband. He’s good at coming up with these; I’m not sure how many have been suggested  by him over the years. Both of these words mean an excess, but one just means “more” while the other means “too much!” There are some interesting archaic terms, too. For example, I always ‘knew’ that “King John died of a surfeit of lampreys” but I didn’t know exactly what that word meant, thinking it was standing for just “too much of” rather than a more specific meaning.*

A surplus is the amount that’s left over when you’ve met all your requirements. So if you have a bag of broad beans to cover every week for the next year and you will carry on with your next harvest once those are used up, anything over 52 bags is your surplus. In accounting terms, it means the positive difference between income/assets and expenditure over a period, so if I earn £100 from selling broad beans but spend £30 on bags to sell them in, my surplus is £70. And in even more specific accounting terms, it means the amount by which a company’s assets are worth more than the face value of its stock.

So a surplus doesn’t really carry the idea of TOO MUCH, whereas a surfeit is the “too much” one. It just really means an excess, but it isn’t really used in a positive sense (unless you’ve found examples – do share if you have). And in archaic terms, it was an illness that was caused by excessive drinking or eating – so King John’s “surfeit” wasn’t an excess of lampreys but the illness brought on by having eaten the excess of lampreys. If we go back to our broad beans, although it’s subjective, I’d say that having, for example, 104 bags of broad beans when you only need 52 would count as having a surfeit.

I do love these small distinctions. Interestingly, surfeit and surplus both come from Latin via Middle English (thank you, OED), so it’s not one of those cases where we have one Germanic and one Latinate word for the same thing.

And the obsession with vegetable produce? Blame the people who presumably have allotments and keep leaving courgettes out on walls and the pavement for people to take and runners to trip over / jump.

*Edited to add: Oh, deary me. I have been informed by reader Ian Johnston that “It was Henry I that died from a surfeit of lampreys, John fined the City of Gloucester for failing to deliver him a lamprey pie at Christmas; a dearth not a surfeit of lampreys”. Thank you to Ian for pointing that out and I stand corrected!

You can find more troublesome pairs here, and here’s the index to them all! The index is finally UP TO DATE so go and have a look and tell me which is your favourite so far!

 
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Posted by on August 3, 2017 in Errors, Language use

 

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