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Instant or instantaneous?

What’s the difference between instant and instantaneous? Is there in fact a difference?

There are lots of pairs of words that mean the same thing, but one has a precise meaning and the other has a range of meanings. Now, if there are two words with subtly different meanings, I’m all for keeping both of them and retaining the richness of our wonderful language, etc. But when one just covers a subset of the other’s meanings, I’m not, to be honest, quite sure. At least here there seems to be a technical term lurking around which will keep the smaller (yet longer!) word going.

So, instantaneous, to cover the smaller meaning first, means being done or happening instantly. It does have a specific meaning in physics around being measured or existing at a particular time.

Instant means occurring immediately, as you would expect, as well as a precise moment in time or a very short time. It also means something that’s processed to allow it to be prepared quickly, in the case of food, mainly, Also, and I dimly remember this from when I learned to type in the Dark Ages, it means “of the current month” (your letter of the 16th instant) although surely no one uses that now?

Both of them come from the same original source, from Latin for “be at hand” (instare), but instantaneous came through medieval Latin, which added -aneus to the original instant (thank you, Oxford English Dictionary for that information). I would advise using instant unless you’re a physicist, just to save complication and make it easier to read.

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

 
 

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Complicated or complex?

DictionariesThis one was suggested by Neil Langley posting on my main Troublesome Pairs post.

So what is the difference between complex and complicated? Is there one?

The answer is that their meanings overlap. The main dictionaries in the US and UK (Oxford, Merriam-Webster, etc.) define complex using the word complicated, so the adjective complex means made up of many different parts, or complicated. Complicated means consisting of many interconnecting parts, or intricate. So very similar.

The noun complication moves on to describe something that makes something complicated, a complex state (there we go again) and in medical terminology, a disease or condition that is secondary to the main one but makes it worse.

Complex as a noun can mean a few more things – an interlinked system (the military-industrial complex), and then Oxford links but Merriam-Webster lists separately, a group of interlinked buildings. It also has a meaning in psychology of a group of emotionally significant but repressed ideas which cause an abnormal kind of behaviour or an abnormal state (a persecution complex), and by extension, a more pop-psych preoccupation or exaggerated reaction (I have a complex about spiders). There’s a chemical meaning to do with connections, too.

So the nouns vary, but if you’re describing something made up of lots of different things that might be a bit confusing or intricate, it can be complicated OR complex.

Having done some rooting about, I did discover this Washington Post resource claiming to delineate a difference.

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

 
 

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Hassock or cassock?

Hassock or cassock?

Inspired by a good friend sharing a photo of her husband and their son in matching church choir garb, in this article I’m covering a bit of an ecclesiastical theme. Now I’m wondering if everywhere around the world even has both of these things – maybe some non-UK people will let me know in the comments …

A cassock (a word which probably comes from Turkish, through Italian and French: thank you, Oxford Dictionaries) is a long article of clothing which is worn by some members of the Christian clergy and members of church choirs (not all wear them, but you’ll recognise it when you see it).

A hassock is a little cushion that you kneel on in church: you find them in the pews and choir stalls, often decorated in tapestry by church members. Interestingly, in America it also refers to a footstool – so does this indeed mean other countries don’t have the classic hassocks in their churches? The second meaning is a clump of grass or other plants found in marshy ground – I always thought that was a tussock and now I feel another Troublesome Pair coming on …

So, don’t get your hassocks and cassocks mixed up, or you might be insufficiently clad and kneeling on something far less comfortable than it should be.

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

 
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Posted by on February 8, 2018 in Errors, Language use, Troublesome pairs

 

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Decor or decoration?

Well, it’s almost time to take our Christmas decorations down, for those who have them (and no, I’m not going to get into the argument about whether Twelfth Night is the 5th or 6th of January …) so I thought I’d do a seasonal post, talking about decor or decoration. And I hope you all had a good break, whatever and whenever you celebrate, and wish all my readers a Happy New Year as this blog goes into its seventh year …

A decoration is an ornament or less frequently an award or medal. Decoration is the act of decorating something (making it look nicer by adding or changing items such as wallpaper, paint, etc),

Decor is all of the decoration and furniture in a room, the whole thing. So decor is the larger category, into which decoration falls. Your Christmas tree, if you had one, as well as its decorations and any decorations hanging from the chandeliers and door frames, will all form part of the general decor of your house and rooms.

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

 
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Posted by on January 4, 2018 in Errors, Language use

 

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How do I combine Word documents without losing the formatting?

I’ve written about how to combine Word documents in this article. But what if combining documents loses the formatting?

I had a question in a comment from someone who had used my method to combine several chapters of a textbook. But the formatting all got lost. What should she do?

How to combine Word documents and not lose the format

Before you combine the documents into one big document, add a Section Break at the end of each document you want to combine.

I’ve covered this in more detail in this article, but here’s a summary with a screenshot from Word 2013.

  • Go to the Page Layout tab
  • Find the Breaks section and drop it down using the little arrow
  • Select Section Break – Next page

Once you’ve done this to all your documents, combine them. You might find you have some extra blank pages at the end of sections: turn Paragraph Marks on (see this article for how to do that) so that you can see your Section Breaks. Carefully delete the blank pages but leave the section breaks there.

This should retain your individual formatting in each individual document that you’ve combined.


If you’ve found this article on how to combine Word documents without losing the formatting, useful, please comment or share using the buttons below. Happy document-combining!

Other useful articles on this website

How do I combine several Word documents?

How do I insert section breaks in Word?

Viewing paragraph marks and other mark-up

 
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Posted by on December 21, 2017 in Copyediting, Short cuts, Word, Writing

 

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Fornication or formication? Bonus: vermiculation

Fornication or formication? Bonus: vermiculation

OK, hands up who’s actually got these two mixed up? I’m sharing this Troublesome Pair mainly because a) someone suggested it (who? I suspect it might have been Mr. Libro, who is a great source of inspiration for these) and b) isn’t the word formication excellent? There’s a bonus word in the works, too. I’d love to know which word you were looking up when you found this article – do share in the comments!

Fornication is officially the act of having sexual intercourse with someone to whom you are not married. The OED marks this as being “formal or humorous” which seems an amusing and odd pairing to me, but also quite true.

Formication is the sensation of having insects (it comes from the word for ant, also found supplying formic acid, which is emitted by some ants) crawling on your skin. It forms part of some medical conditions (or comes from having insects crawling on your skin).

And I’m always reminded of the word vermiculation by formication – it’s another word from the world of fauna, meaning marking with wavy or wiggly lines or, indeed, worm-eaten (the latter being “archaic” according to the OED. I’ve always come across the first meaning in relation to a particular type of decoration on stone, although if you have a look at this Wikipedia article, you’ll find it’s used in enamel work, too.

Don’t say you never learn anything here!

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

 
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Posted by on December 13, 2017 in Errors, Language use

 

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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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