Here are a few more to contemplate:

1.  Desert, Deserts and Desserts: Every time I see it written that someone “got his just desserts” I visualize coconut cream pies being thrown. Meanwhile, when folks refer to the after-dinner pastry or other sweet treat, using only one “s” in the middle, my mouth gets very dry. Here’s the difference:

(a)   A desert (de-sert) is a place with hot sun and little rain; camels or other fauna with hardy constitutions may inhabit it, or you may remember it from the old Road Runner cartoons.

(b)   Your just deserts (de-serts) are what you deserve (good or bad).

(c)   When it’s time for dessert (de-sert), you get to sample those pies,  cakes, candies, etc. (My favorite was always cherry pie, with a cream cheese topping, which my Mom used to make for my birthday “cake” … but I may not taste that again in this life.)

2.  Disinterested vs. Uninterested: This one should be simple to remember: If you really don’t care (or the topic just bores you), you’re “uninterested” in it. However, if you have no stake (personal or financial) in the outcome, you could serve as a “disinterested observer,” or even as a fair-witness (extra points if you can name the source of that concept!) impartial arbitrator of the situation, since you are considered impartial or neutral.

3.  Grisly vs. Grizzly vs. Grizzled: You’d think this one would be obvious, but the word “grisly” (horrific, gruesome, as in a bloody murder scene – or even the reaction you might have to seeing a deer being carved up for transporting by a hunter, if you never saw one?) has no relation to either the big bear (“grizzly”) OR the description of an old codger. Actually, the word “grizzly bear” is not descriptive of anything but the “greyish” tips on the animal’s fur, while “grizzled” in describing a person is also a reference to the grey/white beard stubble and hair-color of an elder. (You might call what is left of a hapless hiker who encounters one of these ursine behemoths and doesn’t run away immediately a “grisly” sight, but it has nothing to do with the attacker, only the result!)

4.  Incredible vs. Incredulous:  Okay, this one is easy: “Incredible” is just another word for “unbelievable” or at very least “stretching credibility” (i.e., hard to believe). Meanwhile, the word “incredulous” is just a fancy way of saying skeptical; it’s more often found in its opposite: “credulous,” which means “gullible” or “easily convinced” (I’ll let the applications go by the wayside; in this political season, there’s no safe way to show an example of “credulous” …).

5.  Jury-rigged & jerry-built: One more, and I’ll leave you to contemplation. These two terms are almost the same. If something is poorly constructed it is said to be “jerry-built”; if it’s been thrown together, with whatever happens to be available, and it actually works . . .  it has been “jury-rigged” (One might also say it had been “MacGyvered” . . . but I’m not going there.).

(I’m not really sure if the “jerry” part in the first definition might harken back to pejorative terms for “German engineering” from the two World Wars (although I do know that latter term was used in my fraternity house when it came to “fixing” the color on the house Common Room TV – by smacking it in just the right place on the top of the console!)

As for the “jury” part, that most likely stems from the nautical concept of a “jury-mast,” which the OED defines as “A temporary mast put up in place of one that has been broken or carried away.”

As an additional concern, these words are often juggled, so that “jerry-rigged” and “jury-built” show up, confusing the issue further. Generally speaking, neither of these is correct, but they still get misused.

And there you have five more words to learn; just trying to help, as they say . . .

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