It's been over a year since last time I did one of these (for previous installments, see my Words easily confused category); I've been bogged down by uncertainty about which of my blogs to post it in. Finally decided on this one, but by now the list has gotten very long. So I'm splitting it into two entries.
As usual, an asterisk indicates an incorrect-usage example. I made up all the examples; they’re not quotes from anyone in particular.
As usual, some of these turn out not to be errors according to the dictionary, but I figure it's worth listing things that I consider to be errors, because chances are good that a fair number of other educated people will also think they're errors.
Given the existence of the eggcorns database and the Common Errors in English site, I'm not sure there's really any point in my continuing to post these lists. But I've got a year's worth of backlogged words sitting here, so I'm gonna post at least this set. Maybe in the future I'll limit myself to items not in the eggcorns database or on the Common Errors page. Anyway, I should note that, as always, this is not intended to be an exhaustive list; just the items that I've come across or happened to notice.
- "aid" for "aide"
- I would normally say that a person who assists you (especially in a military setting) is an "aide," not an "aid," but the dictionary (MW11) indicates, somewhat indirectly, that both are acceptable spellings. Let your conscience be your guide. Or your aide.
- "belie" for "betray"
- To "belie" is, more or less, to give an indication that something is false, usually used in contexts like "The quaver in his voice belied his confident demeanor"--the subject of the verb (quaver in voice) is showing that the object (confident demeanor) is a lie or a false appearance. But I fairly often see "belie" misused to mean "reveal," where the subject of the verb supports the object rather than contradicting it. * "She said no, but the love in her eyes belied her true feelings for him." Usually in this sort of case the word the author probably means is "betrayed" or "revealed."
- "bottoms up" for "bottom-up"
- It's "bottom-up" design or management, not "bottoms up." "Bottoms up" is what you say when you're drinking and you're about to upend your glass.
- "ex-patriot" for "expatriate"
- An "ex-patriot" is someone who used to be patriotic but no longer is. (Where "ex" means "former.") An "expatriate" is someone who lives in a country other than their own. (Where "ex" means "out of.") Many expatriates were never patriots in the first place, so cannot be ex-patriots. Also, the abbreviation is "expat," not "ex-pat."
- "for all intensive purposes" for "for all intents and purposes"
- A reasonably common eggcorn, especially, I assume, among people who learned the phrase orally rather than by reading it.
- I saw this misused twice in stories in the first few months of 2007; it wasn't really clear to me what the authors thought the word meant, but they seemed to have some nonstandard meaning in mind. A "frisson" is a little shiver or thrill, usually used with "of" and an emotion, as in "a frisson of excitement." You can't really have a frisson of something dull; to me, * "a frisson of boredom" (for example) doesn't really make sense.
- "one in the same" for "one and the same"
- Another fairly common eggcorn.
- "peaked" for "piqued"
- I'm seeing sentences like * "It peaked his anger" fairly often. To "pique" in this sense is to arouse or provoke an emotion or interest, I think most often curiosity or anger. As with many items on these lists, I'm not sure whether it's a misspelling or an eggcorn.
- "purposely" for "purposefully"
- There are contexts in which I'd say the two are interchangeable, but "purposefully" can also mean "with determination," and "purposely" generally can't. * "She set out purposely on the journey across town" sounds to me like it's trying to make clear that she didn't set out accidentally.
- "rational" for "rationale"
- A "rationale" is a reason or justification; "rational" is an adjective.
- "riffled" for "rifled"
- To "rifle" in this sense is to ransack, usually with the intention to steal something: "The thief rifled the safe." To "riffle" is to flip through a stack of paper. I think the reason people get confused about this (besides the similarity in spelling) is that "rifle" is most often seen in sentences like "She rifled through my files"--which means she was looking for stuff to steal, but since files are (usually vertical) stacks of paper, one could also riffle through them looking for something (even something to steal) if one were so inclined. But the two words do describe different actions and intents, even though they can sometimes be used similarly.
- "scull" for "skull"
- As in * "Hamlet picked up the scull." I wondered why this was so common 'til I realized a spellchecker won't catch it, 'cause "scull" has a perfectly good (though unrelated) meaning of its own.
- "short-comings" for "shortcomings"
- One of those words like "makeup" that a lot of people feel needs a hyphen in the middle.
- "stave" for "staff"
- This one isn't actually an error, but it bugs me anyway. "Staves" is a plural of "staff"; "stave" is a back-formation from "staves." "Stave" has been in use since the 13th century, so I certainly can't claim it's invalid. (And in music, where it's fairly common, I have no problem with it.) But if you're talking about a stick, and you're only using the word because you didn't know that "staff" was the original singular, consider sticking with "staff." After all, you probably wouldn't refer to one of several elves as an "elve."
- "throws" for "throes"
- Most often in the phrases * "death throws" or * "throws of passion." Another one that might be an eggcorn or might just be an ordinary reasonless misspelling. See also throngs of passion.
- "to no end" for "no end"
- I suspect most people don't consider this a mistake, but to me, "to no end" means "for no purpose," whereas the original phrase, "no end," means "endlessly" or "limitlessly." "This book annoys me no end" means, essentially, "There's no end to the annoyance this book gives me."
- "tortuous" for "torturous"
- "tortuous" means roundabout, winding, indirect, or devious. It has nothing to do with torture. Especially confusing because "torturous" can mean (as MW11 puts it) "painfully difficult or slow," so a slow and roundabout process can be both tortuous and torturous. But this confusion is so common that I imagine dictionaries will be listing them as synonyms soon, if they haven't already. (MW11 doesn't, but it wouldn't surprise me if some do.)
- "track" for "tract"
- I had only seen this in the context of * "digestive track" (which kind of makes sense if you haven't seen the original term written down), but apparently it's a common eggcorn in other contexts as well, especially * "tracks of land."
- "transverse" for "traverse"
- "Transverse" is an adjective meaning, more or less, "lying across"; to "traverse" something is to travel across it, so the confusion is understandable (even if it's not just a typo, which it often may be). But "transverse" isn't a verb; you can't * "transverse the desert."
- "trembler" for "temblor"
- Definitely an eggcorn. Appears regularly online, though is often corrected quickly; for example, a San Francisco Chronicle article originally said that a "trembler" had happened; the revised version of the article, within a few hours of the original, said "temblor" and had an additional author added to the byline, but gave no explicit indication that anything had changed.
- "whelp" for "yelp"
- A "whelp" is an offspring or child. Someone who gave out * "a wild whelp" every time they were surprised would get mighty tired mighty fast.
Bonus section: quotes easily confused.
A certain well-known Dylan Thomas poem is titled "Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night." Two authors, in stories two weeks apart, recently tried to refer to the poem using phrases like * "that gentle night." It's probably easy to misremember the poem as saying that it's the night that's gentle, not the going, especially because "gentle" is usually an adjective; but Thomas was using "gentle" as an adverb, essentially as if he had said "Do not go gently," or perhaps "Do not be gentle when you go."