You may see yourself as on the verge of being overwhelmed in a beleaguered outpost of English usage, but here is ammunition against imprecision in the use of words.
Another — Another means one more of the same kind or quantity. If you sell your cow for five magic beans and then win five more in a wager, you have won another five beans. If you win six or four, you have won six or four more, not another six or four.
Bemused — No connection with amusement. It means preoccupied or befuddled.
Comprise – The plan will be presented Friday in Brussels, Belgium, at a meeting of foreign ministers from Britain, France, Germany, Russia and the United States, according to diplomatic sources. The five powers comprise the so-called Contact Group on Bosnia. They do not. The so-called Contact Group on Bosnia comprises Britain, France, Germany, Russia and the United States. The whole thing comprises its constituent parts. The parts compose or make up the whole.
Dilemma — The word means a choice between two equally unpleasant options. Do not use it where problem, difficulty, predicament or quandary would be more appropriate.
Enormity — Nothing to do with size. An enormity is not a big thing, but a horrible thing, an outrageous thing, a heinous thing.
Expatriate — We see this – more often than you might think — written phonetically as “ex-patriot,” a word that does not exist. An expatriate has gone out of (“ex”) his or her native country (“patria”) to live. Patriotism has no necessary connection with it.
Face – Fleiss faces a minimum of three years, and up to eight years and eight months in prison. A sentencing hearing was set for Jan. 20. To face is to confront, to meet squarely, head-on, immediately. What Heidi Fleiss faces is the prospectof a particular sentence, a possibility. She will face the sentence at the moment the judge pronounces it. It is preferable in such contexts to say that a defendant could be sentenced to a particular term. Observing this distinction will involve changing some of our habits.
Following — Do not use following as a preposition. When you mean after, that is the word to use. The AP Stylebooks example: He spoke after dinner. Not: He spoke following dinner.
However – However emphasizes a contrast. It should fall at the pivotal point between the two elements — in the middle of a sentence, if that is where the shift occurs, or at the beginning of a sentence that contrasts with the immediately previous sentence. Don’t let it fall so late in the sentence that the effect is lost. The ban on using it at the start of a sentence is a superstition. However, don’t overdo it or use however when nevertheless or all the same would sound more natural.
Including — Include suggests part of the whole group. Use comprise, if you follow the entry on that word, in listing the complete members or constituents of a group; use include to introduce a partial listing.
Infamous – It means notorious, not just well-known. Don’t use it as a synonym for famous In fact, since it is a pejorative, better not use it at all. (Sportswriters in particular should note: The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor was infamous. Very few events from sporting contests ever approach that pitch of notoriety.)
Ironically – Mallia was signed by Dayton last season because No. 1 goalie Carlos Pena had a separated shoulder. Ironically, Smith played with Pens not only with the Dynamo but also in their high school days in Culver City, Calif.Not ironically, but coincidentally. “Irony” as a rhetorical term means a statement that means the opposite of what it says. It can be applied as well to events to suggest some reversal or other contrast involving opportunity and events. In the main, this is a word that doesn’t need to be used at all. If there is irony present, the ready reader will perceive it. Show; don’t tell.
Like – He feels like he was personally repudiated. … Using like in place of as if or as though is colloquial and should be avoided.
Literally – The three-year varsity player literally carried the team to victory in the Catholic League tournament championship. … If only we had been able to get art with that. The ward “literally” means according to the exact meaning of the word, to the letter. Don’t use it to mean figuratively or metaphorically; don’t use it for emphasis. If you can’t take a picture of what the action is, it isn’t literal.
Mull – They continue to hold discussions with Brian David, agent for Smith, who is mulling a two-year offer from the California Angels. You can mull wine or cider, but you do not mull other things. Mull over is idiomatic for “to meditate” or “to ponder.”
Most – Most every day in an Eldersburg neighborhood of green lawns and tidy homes, a woman bearing an evening meal heads for the Gates house. Using most for almost is a colloquialism that we try to avoid, except in direct quotation.
Schizophrenic — The word does not refer to a split personality, multiple personality or the state of being of two minds about a subject. It is a severe psychological disorder characterized by separation of the thought processes from the emotions, distorted perception of reality, and the like. Don’t use it casually, and don’t use its slang equivalent, schizo, at all
Superlatives — Words that should make you tremble as you enter them into stories: largest, first, most, only. We have only to write that some event is the first of its kind or that some person is the only one to have done something and the phones begin to ring. Don’t bestow such distinctions unless you have personally verified the accuracy, and be cautious and sparing with them even then.
That — We often omit this conjunction when it is needed. Use that when there is a time element after a verb: He said yesterday that he would file suit. Use that when there are two parallel subordinate clauses in a sentence: He said that he would file suit and that he would not settle. Use that before subordinate clauses beginning with conjunctions such asafter, although, because, in addition to, until and while. Thus: He said that although he is a reasonable man, he still intends to sue. Some verbs require that: advocate, assert, contend, declare, estimate, make clear, point out, proposeand state.