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The Wrong Words: Ever Used a Wrong Word in Your Writing?

The Wrong WordsA recent post on Facebook made me think about “wrong” words. The post was really a simple test of observation:

 

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Repost when you find the mitsake

 

I shared this on Facebook  and received comments from friends which invariably included a spelling mistake, e.g. “I found it straight away, we must have gone to a good skool” and “I found it in seccunds”.

Whilst the post was an example of a spelling mistake, a transportation of two letters in this case, the puzzle did make me think of times when I‘ve used an incorrect word(s), although spelt correctly, in a story or two.

I sometimes find it difficult to find an inspirational story idea, but when I do I can usually write very quickly. My problem (well one of them) lies with editing, which I hate doing and which I’m particularly bad at. One of the short stories I had published in an anthology had a glaring error in it. I certainly didn’t spot it and neither did the editor of the publication, a very experienced person in the field. It only came to light when a friend read my story and he found great delight in telling me about the error of my ways. I used the word “naturalist” when I should have used the word “naturist”!

“A group of naturalists, who previously restricted their activities to a private estate, held naked processions through the town centre stating that social protocols were inappropriate under the current circumstances.”

My friend imagined a naked David Attenborough leading the charge!

Interesting, though, is that this friend didn’t spot another incorrect word in the story – me using the word “populous” instead of the word “populace”! This came to light when another friend read the story. I think I need to learn English, or a least learn better editing skills.

Before I go on to look at words which are commonly misused, I’d just like to mention the deliberate use of incorrect words in literature. The obvious example that comes to mind, mainly because I studied the play at school is in Sheridan’s “The Rivals”. In fact, the word “malapropism” (a misuse of words especially mistaking a word for a similar sounding one) comes from the characters, a Mrs Malaprop, who frequently uses the wrong word. For example, “illiterate him quite from your memory” instead of “obliterate”.

However Sheridan wasn’t the first to successfully use incorrect words. Constable Dogberry, in Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing” was also portrayed as a Malaproper (is there such a word)? “Our watch, sir, have indeed comprehended two auspicious persons”. You can work out the correct words yourself!

The misuse of words has also been used in more recent times. A good example of this would be in the “Two Ronnies” where Ronnie Barker did a sketch on a Society for those who mispronounce.

Could this be an idea for one of your future characters?

OK, onto some commonly misused words as examples of words that sound alike:

Less/Fewer

A common mistake is to use the word “Less” than the correct “fewer”, for example:

“He had less chances than his brother”, is incorrect.

 

Disinterested/Uninterested

“I tried to engage him on the subject but he was totally disinterested”. This is an example where uninterested should be used, i.e. meaning not interested. Disinterested means impartial, free from personal interest.

 

Its/It’s

It’s is a contraction of “it is”. “Its” is a possessive pronoun and indicates belonging:

“It’s a wonderful building and its roof has recently been renovated”, is correct.

 

Affect/Effect

“Affect” is a verb which means to influence. Effect is a noun or a verb and relates to a result.

“The effect of music on me is that I dance.”

“Listening to music affects me emotionally.”

 

Lose/Loose

“Lose” is the opposite of win whereas “loose” is something that is not tightly fitting.

 

Your/You’re

“Your” is another one of those possessive pronouns, e.g. “your car”, meaning the car that belongs to you.

“You’re” is a contraction of “you are”.

 

Farther/Further

“Farther” applies to distance. “How much farther is it?”

“Further” is another way of saying more. “It’s two miles further.”

 

Compliment/Complement

If you receive a “compliment” someone is saying something nice about you.

“Complement” means to add to or to supplement.

 

 Past/Passed

“Passed” is the past participle of the verb to pass. He “passed” the ball to the fly-half.

“Past” relates to previous, former, to go by or beyond, e.g. our past was glorious; his past achievements were never repeated; the car flew past me; the child stayed up past his bedtime.

 

Dessert/Desert

“Dessert” is the correct spelling for the sweet course at the end of a meal.

“Desert” can have many meanings including a large, arid, sandy place; to leave; to give up.

I think one of the most common misused words today is the word “Celebrity”. Yes, I’m sure you know what I mean – it’s not a malapropism, but a word no less misued. If you feel as I do when a bunch of non-descript “celebrities” are presented using this word, have a read of Christopher Brookmyre’s novel, “A Snowball in Hell” and see how the main character, Simon Darcourt, deals with those who think they are celebrities. Not for the squeamish though!

By the way, did you spot my deliberate misuse of a word in the above? A chocolate biscuit for the first correct entry!

Have you ever misused a word in your writing? If so please let us know.

About Tony At The Word...

In addition to my own reading and writing activities, I am passionate about promoting both.

I hope that through “The Word Runs Through It” we can encourage reading and writing and a connection between people.

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  • Andrew Williams October 10, 2015, 6:38 pm

    The word you misused is, fittingly enough, “misused” (“it’s not a malapropism, but a word no less misued”). Unless that’s an unintentional error and you’ve left another one out there, lurking like a shark amongst the custard.

    Either way, please email me my chocolate biscuit forthwith.