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More confusion, or less?

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Sorry for the long delay between posts; been dealing with some personal stuff, more than the usual levels (those who know me already know the details; those who don’t have no need to).

Okay, let’s do a few others that almost everyone seems to get wrong:

  1. “a lot” is a synonym for “a whole bunch of stuff”; it can also be written as the single word “lots” if you prefer. However it should not be written as “alot” (that’s not only not a correct usage, it’s not even a word in the English language!). Meanwhile, if you spell it with two l’s (as in “allot”) you are dividing something into shares, as in “giving to each his allotted portion.”) This is less often misused.
  1. Then there is “principal” vs. “principle” . . . most folks know this, but still get it wrong at times.The “-pal” word has several meanings: (a) to describe an upper-management school official, (b) to indicate the “main” portion of something, or (c) to define the pre-interest portion of a financial transaction, such as a loan.The “-ple” version is a synonym for “tenet” (see below). (We could of course refer to a “lack of principles by the unprincipled principal” and be speaking about an educator with no ethical sense.)
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Pleonasmic simplicity

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Today I learned a new word, and now I’m going to inflict it on you, my devoted readers (and the other folks who’ve unwittingly stumbled onto this blog and not as yet found the strength to run away?).

That word is:   pleonasm

I ran across it while reading the manual for a potential editing job; I have to admit I had not been aware that there was a word to describe this situation, but I am glad that there is one.

A “pleonasm” (despite what it might sound like) is a certain form of redundancy. The definition (at least the simple one), in fact, is precisely that:

pleonasm: (noun) the use of more words than those necessary to denote mere sense (as in, the man he said); redundancy

(Note how the two definitions even demonstrate the word and its solution. Well it made me chuckle a bit!)

The word derives from the Greek pleon, meaning “excessive or abundant.”

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All together now, already …

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Last entry I addressed “all right” and “alright”; today I’m talking about some other “all words,” and once again they have very different meanings when combined or separated. (Once again, I refer to Grammar Girl as the primary inspiration for this piece. I will attempt to tweak it at least enough to pass Copyscape’s barriers . . .)

“all together” vs. “altogether”:

These two are not confused as often as their … umm, distant cousins are, but they do still get scrambled now and then. The easiest way to remember the difference is to think of the single-word version (altogether) as being an adjective (meaning “entirely” or “completely”), while the two-word “all together” simply means “collectively” or “in unison.” Additionally, “all together” can be broken up within a sentence, as in “We all cleaned the neighborhood together.” (or, “All together we cleaned the neighborhood.”)

“all ready” vs. “already”:

These two are also extremely variant in their meanings, compared to one another. The two-word one, “all ready,” is simply another way to say “prepared” (“That cake looks all ready to be carved up and gobbled down.”) Meanwhile, “already” has to do with time; it merely means “prior to this moment,” and defines a situation where something has previously occurred, as in “My bags were already packed, in anticipation of the journey.”

Until next time …

All right, already!

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Today I’ll address another of those odd mixups that almost everyone gets, umm, well . . . “all wrong”!

Let’s begin with the “rule”:

It’s not only not “alright” to use that spelling (except in very rare situations, see below), it’s (almost always) just plain wrong!

Here are the formal differences:

all right (adjective): complete, entirely correct. “Our preparations for the camping trip were all right for the weather we encountered.” (i.e., we made all the right preparations)

alright (adverb): satisfactorily, adequately. “We didn’t have a cover for the tent, but we made out alright in spite of the rain.”. (Also used as an assent to something proposed, as in “I’m going to the store to pick up some veggies. Okay?” “Yeah, alright!”)

The real difference might be seen as one of degree: if something is “all right” it is entirely correct, while it being “alright” could be seen as merely “adequate” or “okay.” The effort under way to distinguish these is commendable, although (note that this is never written as “all though”!) it is as yet not seen as “proper English.” (Note: Although I used several sources to research this entry, as usual one of the best was Grammar Girl, although even she initially rejects any use of “alright” . . . before conceding that it is becoming more and more common.)

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More confused words

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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.

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More oft-confused words

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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?
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just had to pass this one along …

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