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Category Archives: Troublesome pairs

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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Possum or opossum?

DictionariesBecause possums are known for playing dead, I thought this would be a good post for April Fool’s Day. But I’m posting this after midday in the UK, so it’s only still appropriate in later timezones than ours. Ah, well.

So, what’s the difference between opossums and possums? Well … there is and there isn’t a difference.

An opossum is an North American marsupial which is from the family Didelphidae and is handily also sometimes known as a possum. The word opossum was borrowed from the Powhatan language in the 1600s.

When Americans or those who knew the opossum first went to Australia, they found there was a similar-looking BUT NOT THE SAME animal from the Phalangeriformes family, and promptly christened it the possum. Except that it’s sometimes called an opossum.

Here’s the North American type, the opossum (or possum) (both pictures used from Wikipedia  on creatives commons licences):

North American opossum

and here’s the Australasian variant, the possum (or opossum):

Australasian possum

You’re welcome!

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

 
 

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Undulate or ungulate?

My husband, Mr Libro, likes these words, he suggested last week’s too. I have to say I agree with him, too, even if any confusion between them in likely to be more of a typo than an error in meaning.

To undulate means to move smoothly in a wave-like manner.

An ungulate is a hoofed mammal, such as a cow. I thought it only meant hoofed animals that chew the cud, so you really do learn a new thing every day!

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

 
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Posted by on March 15, 2017 in Errors, Language use, Troublesome pairs, Writing

 

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Undulant or unguent?

This is a Troublesome Pair suggested by Mr Libro, my dear husband. I’m not sure anyone will get these mixed up, but they are fun words, aren’t they? A bit of a tongue-twister, too …

Undulant is a second adjective that originates from undulate (the more common adjective is undulating, but why have one adjective when you can have two lovely unusual ones?). So it means something that is undulating, or moving with a smooth, wave-like action.

An unguent, which is a noun, is a soft and viscous or greasy substance which is used either for lubrication or as an ointment.

So now you know.

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

 
 

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Mucus or mucous?

I haven’t posted a Troublesome Pair for ages but I’ve had this one up my sleeve (erm, no, I haven’t, that would be disgusting!) for ages and hadn’t got round to posting it. With a Birmingham Cough going the rounds still, this seemed a seasonal post; my apologies to the more sensitive reader. It is a valid and troublesome pair, though!

Mucus is the noun, i.e. the thing itself: slimy stuff that gets secreted by animals and even plants (it’s more commonly known as mucilage in plants, though mucilage is also, in general a viscous bodily fluid or secretion).

Mucous is the adjective – so mucous membranes secrete mucus, for example.

Bonus word: mucilaginous is the adjective that goes with mucilage. I bet you’re glad you asked, aren’t you!

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

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

 

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Warn or worn?

DictionariesThis one was suggested by my friend Linda quite a long time ago; I have revived these Troublesome Pairs posts yet again, so watch out for some good ones coming up over the next few weeks.

This is a tricky one for those who get vowels mixed up; often people coming to English from a language that doesn’t mark vowels in the same way, such as Arabic, can get caught out by all our very similar words, especially when they sound almost the same.

To warn, a verb, means to alert someone about something which is about to happen, usually bad. You can issue a warning (the noun) or be warning (verb) someone about the problem.

Worn is the past tense of wear OR an adjective arising from it, and both words have two meanings: to have on the body, as in clothes (I will wear a hat today) or to do with erosion and damage through constant use or friction, etc. (the water of the river has worn through the rock to make a valley; I have an old, worn book that has been damaged by years of use).

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

 
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Posted by on February 11, 2017 in Errors, Language use, Troublesome pairs, Writing

 

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Adapt or adopt? Adaptation or adoption?

This is a Troublesome Pair that I find very commonly in academic writing, across a whole range of writers. It would be expected in people whose native language doesn’t use vowels (I had a very interesting conversation about Arabic-speakers having trouble with vowels in English) but I also find it in native English-speakers (it’s actually fairly uncommon to find both groups making the same errors)

To adopt something means to take it on as it is. For example, Laura might adopt my process of editing a text, then doing a spell check, then using software to check consistency. If the UN adopts a resolution, it means it takes it into its procedures as it is, with no changes. If you adopt a dog from a shelter, you take it as it is.

To adapt something means to change it according to specific circumstances. For example, Laura might adapt my process by choosing to edit the text, then run the consistency software, then run a spell check. The UN might adapt a resolution to take into account a new world order or the creation of a new country. You might try to adapt your adopted dog’s behaviour if you don’t want it to sit on the sofa.

Adoption therefore means the act of taking on something as it is, while adaptation involves you changing, or you changing something else, to fit the circumstances.

In academic writing, a researcher might well adopt a questionnaire method, but they might adapt someone else’s questionnaire if it needs more questions on widgets and fewer on bath mats, for example.

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

 

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