Friday, August 18, 2017

Wild Wacky Words: Part Too.

As promised, we're closing out the workweek with the rest of my disquisition on commonly confused words. People smarter than I am screw these up. Sometimes it's just a careless error: you're zooming along, writing something, dashing down fifty words a minute, and you use a reign when you meant to use a rein. Spellcheck won't help you, because although you used the wrong word, you spelled the wrong word correctly. Grammar check should help, but it has been my experience that it does not. MS Word probably has the best grammar check around and it sucks. Most of the time it alerts me to errors that do not exist, then ignores the ones that do.

Better to know the words and catch errors when you proofread.

đź”–Straights / Straits

Very close words, both meaning or implying slim and narrow. Straight is almost always used as an adjective or an adverb, though; strait, while it has an adjectival sense as difficult or lacking options, is usually seen in the noun form as a narrow passage or a difficult circumstance. When straight is used as a noun, it means a thing that is straight, or a decent poker hand (depending on the number and existence of wild cards). The error I see mostly is geographical -- people writing things like Straight of Gibraltar instead of Strait. 

đź”–Rein / Reign / Rain

The interesting thing about this is that all of them do come from above. Rain, of course, is precipitation. Reins are what a rider uses to control a horse, and also an expression for controlling something: My boss reined in our excess spending. (Rein usually implies restraint rather than control of direction.) But reign means to rule, or a state of ruling; it is in that way a broader term, although with a narrower focus. In the reign of Charles II, he reigned as monarch and put the reins on chitchat of revolution. The word reign gets the royal G, I suppose. I don't know what that is. I just made it up.

đź”–Pare / Pair / Pear

To  pare is to whittle down; to pair is to put two things together. (Continuing the theme from straight, a pair is also two of a kind, which is not a great hand except maybe in five-card draw.) The I from pair sometimes sneaks into pare, mainly because the latter is not a common word. I threw in the homophone pear not because people use when they mean pare or pair, but because it's fun to say I took my paring knife and pared a pair of pears.

đź”–Flaunt / Flout

Flout doesn't get the use or respect it should, and it's a really useful word. To flout is to treat with contemptuous disregard; it has a lot more boldness than mere insouciance. We're more familiar with flaunt, another colorful verb that means displaying oneself or making a big show. While flout has a definite public side, it is something you do to something, not just something you do; you don't just go around flouting, you have to flout rules, regulations, guidelines, public disapprobation, etc. I flouted the OSHA regulations and it was awesome -- of course, now they call me Lefty. Combine the words for fun and profit! I flouted the campus dress code by flaunting my purple trousers on my head. I suppose if I saw someone suffering under an unfair regulation, I might say (a la Max Bialystock), "That's it, baby, when ya got it, flout it!" But that would be weird.

đź”–Hurtle / Hurdle

Hurtle is a verb -- to move rapidly. It can also be a noun, as in a state of rapid movement. Hurdle is a noun -- mostly seen these days as a barrier to enclose or as something to be cleared for forward movement, like the hurdles that track-and-field athletes leap over. But hurdle is also a verb, meaning to overcome an obstacle. So you can hurdle a hurdle. In fact, if you hurtle up to a hurdle in a hurtle you'll have to hurdle the hurdle or you'll get hurt. I think I made this confusion even worse now.

đź”–Careen / Career / Carom

This is a fun and two-fisted set of verbs that all mean reckless motion, but different kinds of reckless motion. Careen is commonly used for rapid, out-of-control racing, but it actually comes from nautical use and means swaying from side to side; you can careen with no forward or backward motion at all. I guess you might say If the van's careenin', don't come a screamin', but that's a poor rhyme and it's just stupid. When people say careen they usually mean career, which has largely lost its verb sense because of its well-known noun use. To career is indeed to race at full speed headlong -- it comes from jousting! Merriam-Webster now allows careen to be used in that sense, but as usual they are bowing to public silliness. If all of Merriam-Webster's friends jumped off the Empire State Building, Merriam-Webster would race them to the bottom. Anyway, career is a neat verb and quite descriptive: Thanks to my politically incorrect Facebook posts about homophones, my career has careered straight (not strait) into the toilet. As for carom, that fun verb means rebound. All together these three verbs can make an action-packed sentence: I careered down the street, careening like mad, until I caromed off my boss, and now I have no career.

So thanks for bearing (not baring) with me these two days while I got this off my chest. I hope you find this helpful. Now, rather than flouting the rules, you can flaunt your knowledge, and isn't that better? Of course it is.

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