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Words easily confused #15


Time for another installment. (To see previous editions, search my journal for the phrase "words easily" (no quotes)—that'll show the whole series.)

  • Easy typo to make: alter for altar. (And of course a spellchecker won't catch this, as is often true for common typos.)
  • adverse for averse. Both are words, of course, but they're not synonyms.
  • ostensively—I'm not sure what this was a typo for, but at least two authors have used it in the past few months. From context, I'm vaguely guessing it was meant to be either ostensibly or ostentatiously, though neither of those quite fit the contexts either. (Ha, joke's on me: MW11 sez ostensive has been around since 1782 as a synonym for ostensible (and it has another meaning as well). I don't care; it still looks like a typo to me, and almost nobody ever uses it, and in any case the people who I saw using it were misusing it.)
  • It's often easy to type then for than or vice versa.
  • Very common misspelling: beautific for beatific. Though I don't think I've seen beautified for beatified.
  • Also fairly common: pentultimate for penultimate.
  • puss for pus.
  • Very common, and I'm surprised I haven't mentioned it before: diety for deity. Many years ago I started pronouncing it "DAY-it-ee" instead of "DEE-it-ee" to remind myself of the spelling.
  • Seen this a couple times lately: exasperated for exacerbated. (MW11 does list this meaning for exasperated, but lists it as obsolete.)
  • Also saw this a couple times recently: malinger for linger. To malinger is to fake illness (as one might do in order to avoid work).
  • Last time I posted a set of these, Merrie mentioned one in comments that I should've noted, because it's a mistake I make all the time now: hoard for horde, and vice versa. As with reign/rein, I see this confusion so often that it's infected me; I have to stop and think through it two or three times to make sure I'm using the right one (I almost typed "the write one"), and I still get it wrong sometimes. My confusion may've started back when I decided I wanted to put together an organization for wordplay enthusiasts, to be known as the "Word Horde." (If you don't know what I'm talking about, cf word-hoard.)

One more thing, along related lines: I keep seeing authors using the verb quipped in stories, connected to lines of dialogue that aren't quips. A quip is usually a clever or witty or funny comment, often impromptu, usually brief. If a remark is longwinded, serious, or even just not funny, it's probably not a quip. I suspect a better word in many cases would be rejoined, but in most of these cases said would probably be best of all.


wrack / rack seems to be a real problem these days, along with horde / hoard

"Quipped" strikes me as one of those things you should be able to get from context. You either know the character is quipping or you don't, and the author telling you is certainly not going to change your opinion... she quipped.


The one that drives me bonkers is tact/tack. I'm constantly reading published books in which someone who is going astray takes the wrong tact. No! No no no!

Tack is a sailing term, indicating a change of direction (generally in order to make progress despite a prevailing wind, but that's not so relevant).

You can change your tack, you can take the wrong tack, you can tack against the wind, you can tack into the wind, any of these are essentially fine with me. But please don't try to tact anywhere!!!

In the easy to make typo category--form for from.

For more on wrack/rack, see Words easily confused #10.

Good point about "quipped," Merrie. I hadn't thought of that, but I think I agree.

Re the tact/tack confusion appearing in published books: !! Where's a good proofreader when you need one?

Agreed re form/from; I do that more and more often lately.

I love the idea of being infected by words...

Ostensively seems to have some sort of obscure philosophical definition; it shows up in an online translation of Aristotle's Organon and some weird linguistic and philosophical pages, and doesn't seem to mean ostensible.

Still, I would never use "ostensively".

My mind boggles that you have read so much material that uses the word 'pus' that you've identified a *pattern* of replacing it with 'puss' in that context.


I'm starting to use a different word processor (Writer at OpenOffice.org). It allows you to add/make your own dictionaries, including one for exclusions. That means you can make a dictionary that will flag words that you want to review before committing to, even though the regular dictionary would pass them as correct. That's different from the ability to automatically 'correct' one spelling with another, which has its uses. I wouldn't want to have my wordprocessor automatically insert 'tack' whenever I typed 'tact,' but having it flag either during a 'spell check' seems like a nice idea. It may prove annoying, but any of the dictionaries can be de-selected easily.

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