Strunk and Light VI: Incorrect (biatch)!
... *sigh* continuing continuation of continuity ...
• erstwhile: does not mean “false”. You’re thinking of ersatz. Ersatz (from the German, meaning “replacement”) means “false” or “fake” or “imitation” or “substitute”, as in No Postum for me, thanks. I don’t drink ersatz coffee. Erstwhile (from the German “erst”, meaning “first” or “once”) means “former”, as in When my erstwhile husband remarried, I sent him a dozen dead roses, the bastard.
• prophesized: the past tense of “to prophesy” is prophesied, pronounced “PROFF-eh-SIGHED” No “z”.
• travesty: does not mean “outrage”. “Travesty” means a mocking imitation of. So something can’t just be a travesty. It has to be a travesty of something. People use “travesty” to mean “outrage” because of the overused expression “travesty of justice”, which means “mocking imitation of justice” and is used to express moral outrage. Best not to use the word at all.
•enormity: does not mean “enormousness”. It means “extreme wickedness”. The enormity of the crime therefore means the extreme wickedness of the crime and not the enormous size of the crime.
• to hone in on: the expression is “homing in on”, as in using a homing signal to find your way home. To hone means to sharpen, as in honing a knife or honing a skill. The fact that so many people get this wrong means that the metaphor is gone. Don’t use it.
• to jive with: the expression is “jibe with”, meaning “agree with” as in His notions don’t jibe with mine. Jive is a type of music and dancing, or an archaic slang term for bullshit, as in Don’t hand me that jive, honky.
• to step foot: the actual expression is “to set foot”, as in The moment he sets foot in this house, all hell will break loose. Think about it. To “set a foot” down = to “step”. The verb “to step” is intransitive, which means that you can’t give it an object. You can’t step a foot, you can only step. You either step into the house, or you set foot in the house, not both.
• to wax: used for “to speak” as in I waxed eloquently, or the unintentionally hilarious I could wax on about the late nights…, both of which I’ve read recently. “To wax” means to increase, to grow or to become. Think of the moon waxing and waning. You know what “wane” means, right? To decrease? So “wax” means the opposite: to increase. The incorrect use of “to wax” for “to speak” comes from the expression “to wax eloquent” (not “eloquently”!) which means “to become eloquent” or “to grow eloquent”. Think of a waxing moon: someone beginning to speak and then becoming full with their own eloquence as they speak. Since so many people are getting this wrong, the original meaning is dead. Don’t use it.
• startled: don’t use “startled” to mean “surprised” or “astonished.” These are not the same! The surprise meant in “startled” is very specific: it is a sudden shock. Someone jumps out at you and yells “boo!” or you hear a gunshot outside. You “start” or jerk in surprise. You are not “startled” by how good that novel you are reviewing was. You are surprised. You are not “startled” by how enormous and expensive the Boeing Company’s executive toilet is. You are astonished. This started as a startling way of saying surprise. It was so startling that everybody started using it and now no one starts at it. Stop.
• one in the same: if you think about it, this expression doesn’t make any sense. That’s because the expression is “one and the same”. Clark Kent and Superman are one. Clark Kent and Superman are the same. Clark Kent and Superman are one and the same.
• the reason is because: “the reason is” is the same thing as “because”. Why do people have such bad grammar? Well, the reason is that American schools suck. Why do people have such bad grammar? Because American schools suck, dude! “The reason is because” is redundant. Use either “the reason is that”, or “because”, not both.
• whilst: just means “while”, only it’s a British English version. If you’re American, you shouldn’t be using it at all, because American English uses “while” and the only reason an American would use it would be to sound more British and that’s just pretentious, unless of course you’re writing in “dialect”. If you’re a Brit, you shouldn’t be using this guide, because some of the spelling and grammar don’t apply to you.
• “it’s” and “its”:
---it’s: is a CONTRACTION of “it is”. It’s a shame that I have to spell this out.
---its: is the possessive of “it”. Every apostrophe should be in its proper place
And while you’re at it, the possessive of “her” is “hers”, no apostrophe. Likewise, the possessive of “our” is “ours”; of “your” is “yours”; of “their” is “theirs” No apostrophe. Why? Dunno. Don’t care.
• “kind of” and “should’ve”:
---“should have” is contracted to “should’ve”. It sounds like “should of” but it’s not spelled that way. Same with could’ve, would’ve, etc.
---“kind’ve” on the other hand, is wrong. It’s “kind of”. This is a colloquialism that arises from the construction: A pretzel is a kind of bread or Goulash is a sort of soup. You say “kind of” or “sort of” to mean “in a way”.
• “discrete” and “discreet”: don’t mix ‘em up. They’re two discrete words. Be discreet rather than use them incorrectly.
---“discrete” means “separate” or “individually distinct” as in He funneled the funds into two discrete off-shore accounts: one under his name and one under his wife’s name.
---“discreet” means “tactful” or “circumspect” as in I want my off-shore banker to be discreet about the way I handle my funds.
• “averse” and “adverse”: I most commonly hear/see people using “adverse” when they mean “averse” as in: “I am not adverse to going shopping with you using your credit card.” The correct word here is “averse” as in: “I am not averse to going shopping with you …”
---averse means “opposed” or “disinclined” and is related to “aversion” as in: I am averse to the practice of misusing language.
---adverse means “contrary” or “hurtful” and is related to “adversity” as in: I find that misuse of language in published texts has an adverse effect on readers’ writing skills.
• phenomenon/phenomena: “phenomenon” is singular, “phenomena” is plural. Misusing words of Latin origin is a common phenomenon. Such phenomena occur everywhere that English is spoken.
• criterion/criteria: see above. Same deal.
Well, that's all (for now) folks. I hope you have enjoyed this public service announcement. Now, back to our regularly scheduled programming.