5 Common Word Mix-Ups
I marvel at how non-native English speakers handle our homophones (too/to/two), pronunciation (rough/through/though/ought), and other linguistic eccentricities.
Even we native speakers have our challenges. Here are five that have bedeviled clients, colleagues, and me in recent months. (Please excuse the bizarre examples.)
1. Discrete/Discreet"Discrete" means separate or unconnected. "Discreet" means tactful or careful to avoid upsetting or embarrassing others.
Example: He had two discrete ways of dealing with his children, but he was very discreet not to let on about the two systems.
2. Born/Borne "Born" means brought into life or begun. "Borne" is the past participle of the verb "bear"; when related to birth, it's used when the mother, not the infant, is the subject.
Example: She had already borne a son when Lulu was born in 2005.
3. Defuse/Diffuse "Defuse" means to make something less dangerous or tense. "Diffuse" means to spread or scatter.
Example: He defused a tense situation when he cracked a joke. Suddenly, good will was diffused throughout the crowd.
4. Compliment/Complement "Compliment" means to praise. "Complement" means to complete or perfect something.
Example: She complimented me on my new shoes, telling me that they complemented the rest of my outfit.
5. Principle/Principal "Principle" means a theory, standard, or way of working. "Principal" means primary or most significant.
Example: Her principles are the principal reason she cannot get involved in the project.
What are you reading this summer? If you're casting about for a suggestion, here are a few books I have read and loved so far in 2011:
The Art of Racing in the Rain, Garth Stein
A family's tale, through the eyes of Enzo the dog.
My Name Is Mary Sutter, Robin Oliveira
Civil War Washington, through the eyes of a would-be female surgeon.
Bridge of Sighs, Richard Russo
Growing up in a small town in upstate New York, this one through the eyes of one of its most loyal residents.
Emperor of All Maladies, Siddhartha Mukherjee
A "biography of cancer"--research, advances, and disappointments in very layperson-friendly terms.
Discovery of Jeanne Baret, Glynis Ridley
Jeanne Baret, a self-educated botanist, circumnavigated the globe on a French ship in 1780, disguised (sort of) as a man.
Pearl Buck in China, Hilary Spurling
How Pearl Buck came to be part of the country where she grew up.
What Do You Have Going On?
Do you have a book, website, or blog to share with other readers?
Do you have a question related to writing or editing I can cover in this newsletter, or suggestions about how I can make future issues more useful to you or your colleagues?
If so, please let me know.