I owe this one to another website (Taylor Houston’s “10 Words You Literally Didn’t Know You Were Getting Wrong”), but since I’ve already addressed about half of the issues they raised it seems okay to cite the others, with proper attribution.

1. Assent vs. Consent: Both of these are verbs, signifying agreement. When you “assent” to something, though, you do so with positive enthusiasm, whereas “consenting” can be neutral or even reluctant. (Another confusion is between “assent” (agree to eagerly) and “ascent” (climb, as in a mountain).

2. Breach vs. Breech: As a noun, a “breach” is a gap of some kind, either geographical (“once more into the breach, lads!”) or legal (a breach of contract). As a verb, it means “to break open or through” (as in “breaching a fortification”). Meanwhile, “breech” is a specific word defining the part of the back of a body (generally human) located between the legs and the back; that is to say, the butt or ass! (Thus, breeches, often pronounced as “britches,” are the things that cover that ass.) The only time it tends to be used nowadays is in describing a birth (human or other animal) in which the critter is coming out ass-first, and must be turned around in the birth canal. Any more questions?

3. Literally vs. Figuratively: The recent misuse of this one by Vice President Joe Biden has people even more confused (no, I’m going to resist the low-hanging fruit on that one). Throughout his speech at the Democratic National Convention, he confused the two terms; I didn’t watch or listen to the Veep “debate” a couple weeks ago, but I presume he’s been corrected enough times to stop that. Nevertheless, the lesson seems worth teaching again: “literally” means “in fact, actually, no exaggeration”; “figuratively” is what you say when you’re stretching the numbers or the actuality of a situation. You could “figuratively” run off in all directions at this news; you couldn’t literally do so (if you’re still confused, stop using “literally” and just say “actually”).

4. Compelled vs. Impelled: Both are verbs, but one implies a voluntary action (impelled) while the other is coerced (compelled). If, for example, a thief decides by virtue of guilt or conscience to confess and tell where he stashed the loot, we could say he was impelled to do so (by impulse); if the same thief stayed silent until either tortured or threatened with such, there was outside “compulsion” involved, and he was compelled to spill the beans.

5. Infectious vs. Contagious: Any ailment that involves an infection is “infectious”; if it can be spread by close contact with others, it is then “contagious.” (The recent meningitis outbreak has been determined to be caused by an infection of the steroid shots those people took. The disease cannot be transmitted to others, and is therefore not “contagious.”) Sometimes people may refer to a person’s laugh as being “contagious,” since it may “afflict” others with the same giddiness.

More soon …

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