Write It Right by Ambrose Bierce

“The author’s main purpose in this book is to teach precision in writing; and of good writing (which, essentially, is clear thinking made visible) precision is the point of capital concern.”

Aims And The Plan

The author’s main purpose in this book is to teach precision in writing; and of good writing (which, essentially, is clear thinking made visible) precision is the point of capital concern. It is attained by choice of the word that accurately and adequately expresses what the writer has in mind, and by exclusion of that which either denotes or connotes something else. As Quintilian puts it, the writer should so write that his reader not only may, but must, understand.

Few words have more than one literal and serviceable meaning, however many metaphorical, derivative, related, or even unrelated, meanings lexicographers may think it worth while to gather from all sorts and conditions of men, with which to bloat their absurd and misleading dictionaries. This actual and serviceable meaning—not always determined by derivation, and seldom by popular usage—is the one affirmed, according to his light, by the author of this little manual of solecisms. Narrow etymons of the mere scholar and loose locutions of the ignorant are alike denied a standing.

The plan of the book is more illustrative than expository, the aim being to use the terms of etymology and syntax as little as is compatible with clarity, familiar example being more easily apprehended than technical precept. When both are employed the precept is commonly given after the example has prepared the student to apply it, not only to the matter in mind, but to similar matters not mentioned. Everything in quotation marks is to be understood as disapproved.

Not all locutions blacklisted herein are always to be reprobated as universal outlaws. Excepting in the case of capital offenders—expressions ancestrally vulgar or irreclaimably degenerate—absolute proscription is possible as to serious composition only; in other forms the writer must rely on his sense of values and the fitness of things. While it is true that some colloquialisms and, with less of license, even some slang, may be sparingly employed in light literature, for point, piquancy or any of the purposes of the skilled writer sensible to the necessity and charm of keeping at least one foot on the ground, to others the virtue of restraint may be commended as distinctly superior to the joy of indulgence.

Precision is much, but not all; some words and phrases are disallowed on the ground of taste. As there are neither standards nor arbiters of taste, the book can do little more than reflect that of its author, who is far indeed from professing impeccability. In neither taste nor precision is any man’s practice a court of last appeal, for writers all, both great and small, are habitual sinners against the light; and their accuser is cheerfully aware that his own work will supply (as in making this book it has supplied) many “awful examples”—his later work less abundantly, he hopes, than his earlier. He nevertheless believes that this does not disqualify him for showing by other instances than his own how not to write. The infallible teacher is still in the forest primeval, throwing seeds to the white blackbirds.A.B.

The Blacklist

A for An. “A hotel.” “A heroic man.” Before an unaccented aspirate use an. The contrary usage in this country comes of too strongly stressing our aspirates.

Action for Act. “In wrestling, a blow is a reprehensible action.” A blow is not an action but an act. An action may consist of many acts.

Admission for Admittance. “The price of admission is one dollar.”

Admit for Confess. To admit is to concede something affirmed. An unaccused offender cannot admit his guilt.

Adopt. “He adopted a disguise.” One may adopt a child, or an opinion, but a disguise is assumed.

Advisedly for AdvertentlyIntentionally. “It was done advisedly” should mean that it was done after advice.

Afford. It is not well to say “the fact affords a reasonable presumption”; “the house afforded ample accommodation.” The fact supplies a reasonable presumption. The house offered, or gave, ample accommodation.

Afraid. Do not say, “I am afraid it will rain.” Say, I fear that it will rain.

Afterwards for Afterward.

Aggravate for Irritate. “He aggravated me by his insolence.” To aggravate is to augment the disagreeableness of something already disagreeable, or the badness of something bad. But a person cannot be aggravated, even if disagreeable or bad. Women are singularly prone to misuse of this word.

All of. “He gave all of his property.” The words are contradictory: an entire thing cannot be of itself. Omit the preposition.

Alleged. “The alleged murderer.” One can allege a murder, but not a murderer; a crime, but not a criminal. A man that is merely suspected of crime would not, in any case, be an alleged criminal, for an allegation is a definite and positive statement. In their tiresome addiction to this use of alleged, the newspapers, though having mainly in mind the danger of libel suits, can urge in further justification the lack of any other single word that exactly expresses their meaning; but the fact that a mud-puddle supplies the shortest route is not a compelling reason for walking through it. One can go around.

Allow for Permit. “I allow you to go.” Precision is better attained by saying permit, for allow has other meanings.

Allude to for Mention. What is alluded to is not mentioned, but referred to indirectly. Originally, the word implied a playful, or sportive, reference. That meaning is gone out of it.

And soAnd yet. “And so they were married.” “And yet a woman.” Omit the conjunction.

And whichAnd who. These forms are incorrect unless the relative pronoun has been used previously in the sentence. “The colt, spirited and strong, and which was unbroken, escaped from the pasture.” “John Smith, one of our leading merchants, and who fell from a window yesterday, died this morning.” Omit the conjunction.

Antecedents for Personal History. Antecedents are predecessors.

Anticipate for Expect. “I anticipate trouble.” To anticipate is to act on an expectation in a way to promote or forestall the event expected.

Anxious for Eager. “I was anxious to go.” Anxious should not be followed by an infinitive. Anxiety is contemplative; eagerness, alert for action.

Appreciate for Highly Value. In the sense of value, it means value justly, not highly. In another and preferable sense it means to increase in value.

Approach. “The juror was approached”; that is, overtures were made to him with a view to bribing him. As there is no other single word for it, approach is made to serve, figuratively; and being graphic, it is not altogether objectionable.

Appropriated for Took. “He appropriated his neighbor’s horse to his own use.” To appropriate is to set apart, as a sum of money, for a special purpose.

Approve of for Approve. There is no sense in making approve an intransitive verb.

Apt for Likely. “One is apt to be mistaken.” Apt means facile, felicitous, ready, and the like; but even the dictionary-makers cannot persuade a person of discriminating taste to accept it as synonymous with likely.

Around for About. “The débris of battle lay around them.” “The huckster went around, crying his wares.” Around carries the concept of circularity.

Article. A good and useful word, but used without meaning by shopkeepers; as, “A good article of vinegar,” for a good vinegar.

As for That, or If. “I do not know as he is living.” This error is not very common among those who can write at all, but one sometimes sees it in high place.

As—as for So—as. “He is not as good as she.” Say, not so good. In affirmative sentences the rule is different: He is as good as she.

As for for As to. “As for me, I am well.” Say, as to me.

At Auction for by Auction. “The goods were sold at auction.”

At for By. “She was shocked at his conduct.” This very common solecism is without excuse.

Attain for Accomplish. “By diligence we attain our purpose.” A purpose is accomplished; success is attained.

Authoress. A needless word—as needless as “poetess.”

Avocation for Vocation. A vocation is, literally, a calling; that is, a trade or profession. An avocation is something that calls one away from it. If I say that farming is some one’s avocation I mean that he practises it, not regularly, but at odd times.

Avoid for Avert. “By displaying a light the skipper avoided a collision.” To avoid is to shun; the skipper could have avoided a collision only by getting out of the way.

Avoirdupois for Weight. Mere slang.

Back of for BehindAt the Back of. “Back of law is force.”

Backwards for Backward.

Badly for Bad. “I feel badly.” “He looks badly.” The former sentence implies defective nerves of sensation, the latter, imperfect vision. Use the adjective.

Balance for Remainder. “The balance of my time is given to recreation.” In this sense balance is a commercial word, and relates to accounting.

Banquet. A good enough word in its place, but its place is the dictionary. Say, dinner.

Bar for Bend. “Bar sinister.” There is no such thing in heraldry as a bar sinister.

Because for For. “I knew it was night, because it was dark.” “He will not go, because he is ill.”

Bet for Betted. The verb to bet forms its preterite regularly, as do wet, wed, knit, quit and others that are commonly misconjugated. It seems that we clip our short words more than we do our long.

Body for Trunk. “The body lay here, the head there.” The body is the entire physical person (as distinguished from the soul, or mind) and the head is a part of it. As distinguished from head, trunk may include the limbs, but anatomically it is the torso only.

Bogus for Counterfeit, or False. The word is slang; keep it out.

Both. This word is frequently misplaced; as, “A large mob, both of men and women.” Say, of both men and women.

Both alike. “They are both alike.” Say, they are alike. One of them could not be alike.

Brainy. Pure slang, and singularly disagreeable.

Bug for Beetle, or for anything. Do not use it.

Business for Right. “He has no business to go there.”

Build for Make. “Build a fire.” “Build a canal.” Even “build a tunnel” is not unknown, and probably if the wood-chuck is skilled in the American tongue he speaks of building a hole.

But. By many writers this word (in the sense of except) is regarded as a preposition, to be followed by the objective case: “All went but him.” It is not a preposition and may take either the nominative or objective case, to agree with the subject or the object of the verb. All went but he. The natives killed all but him.

But what. “I did not know but what he was an enemy.” Omit what. If condemnation of this dreadful locution seem needless bear the matter in mind in your reading and you will soon be of a different opinion.

By for Of. “A man by the name of Brown.” Say, of the name. Better than either form is: a man named Brown.

Calculated for Likely. “The bad weather is calculated to produce sickness.” Calculated implies calculation, design.

Can for May. “Can I go fishing?” “He can call on me if he wishes to.”

Candidate for Aspirant. In American politics, one is not a candidate for an office until formally named (nominated) for it by a convention, or otherwise, as provided by law or custom. So when a man who is moving Heaven and Earth to procure the nomination protests that he is “not a candidate” he tells the truth in order to deceive.

Cannot for Can. “I cannot but go.” Say, I can but go.

Capable. “Men are capable of being flattered.” Say, susceptible to flattery. “Capable of being refuted.” Vulnerable to refutation. Unlike capacity, capability is not passive, but active. We are capable of doing, not of having something done to us.

Capacity for Ability. “A great capacity for work.” Capacity is receptive; ability, potential. A sponge has capacity for water; the hand, ability to squeeze it out.

Casket for Coffin. A needless euphemism affected by undertakers.

Casualties for Losses in Battle. The essence of casualty is accident, absence of design. Death and wounds in battle are produced otherwise, are expectable and expected, and, by the enemy, intentional.

Chance for Opportunity. “He had a good chance to succeed.”

Chin Whiskers. The whisker grows on the cheek, not the chin.

Chivalrous. The word is popularly used in the Southern States only, and commonly has reference to men’s manner toward women. Archaic, stilted and fantastic.

Citizen for Civilian. A soldier may be a citizen, but is not a civilian.

Claim for Affirm. “I claim that he is elected.” To claim is to assert ownership.

Clever for Obliging. In this sense the word was once in general use in the United States, but is now seldom heard and life here is less insupportable.

Climb down. In climbing one ascends.

Coat for Coating. “A coat of paint, or varnish.” If we coat something we produce a coating, not a coat.

Collateral Descendant. There can be none: a “collateral descendant” is not a descendant.

ColonelJudgeGovernor, etc., for Mister. Give a man a title only if it belongs to him, and only while it belongs to him.

Combine for Combination. The word, in this sense, has something of the meaning of conspiracy, but there is no justification for it as a noun, in any sense.

Commence for Begin. This is not actually incorrect, but—well, it is a matter of taste.

Commencement for Termination. A contribution to our noble tongue by its scholastic conservators, “commencement day” being their name for the last day of the collegiate year. It is ingeniously defended on the ground that on that day those on whom degrees are bestowed commence to hold them. Lovely!

Commit Suicide. Instead of “He committed suicide,” say, He killed himself, or, He took his life. For married we do not say “committed matrimony.” Unfortunately most of us do say, “got married,” which is almost as bad. For lack of a suitable verb we just sometimes say committed this or that, as in the instance of bigamy, for the verb to bigam is a blessing that is still in store for us.

Compare with for Compare to. “He had the immodesty to compare himself with Shakespeare.” Nothing necessarily immodest in that. Comparison with may be for observing a difference; comparison to affirms a similarity.

Complected. Anticipatory past participle of the verb “to complect.” Let us wait for that.

Conclude for Decide. “I concluded to go to town.” Having concluded a course of reasoning (implied) I decided to go to town. A decision is supposed to be made at the conclusion of a course of reasoning, but is not the conclusion itself. Conversely, the conclusion of a syllogism is not a decision, but an inference.

Connection. “In this connection I should like to say a word or two.” In connection with this matter.

Conscious for Aware. “The King was conscious of the conspiracy.” We are conscious of what we feel; aware of what we know.

Consent for Assent. “He consented to that opinion.” To consent is to agree to a proposal; to assent is to agree with a proposition.

Conservative for Moderate. “A conservative estimate”; “a conservative forecast”; “a conservative statement,” and so on. These and many other abuses of the word are of recent growth in the newspapers and “halls of legislation.” Having been found to have several meanings, conservative seems to be thought to mean everything.

Continually and Continuously. It seems that these words should have the same meaning, but in their use by good writers there is a difference. What is done continually is not done all the time, but continuous action is without interruption. A loquacious fellow, who nevertheless finds time to eat and sleep, is continually talking; but a great river flows continuously.

Convoy for Escort. “A man-of-war acted as convoy to the flotilla.” The flotilla is the convoy, the man-of-war the escort.

Couple for Two. For two things to be a couple they must be of one general kind, and their number unimportant to the statement made of them. It would be weak to say, “He gave me only one, although he took a couple for himself.” Couple expresses indifference to the exact number, as does several. That is true, even in the phrase, a married couple, for the number is carried in the adjective and needs no emphasis.

Created for First Performed. Stage slang. “Burbage created the part of Hamlet.” What was it that its author did to it?

Critically for Seriously. “He has long been critically ill.” A patient is critically ill only at the crisis of his disease.

Criticise for Condemn, or Disparage. Criticism is not necessarily censorious; it may approve.

Cunning for Amusing. Usually said of a child, or pet. This is pure Americanese, as is its synonym, “cute.”

Curious for Odd, or Singular. To be curious is to have an inquiring mind, or mood—curiosity.

Custom for Habit. Communities have customs; individuals, habits—commonly bad ones.

Decease for Die.

Decidedly for Very, or Certainly. “It is decidedly cold.”

Declared for Said. To a newspaper reporter no one seems ever to say anything; all “declare.” Like “alleged” (which see) the word is tiresome exceedingly.

Defalcation for Default. A defalcation is a cutting off, a subtraction; a default is a failure in duty.

Definitely for Definitively. “It was definitely decided.” Definitely means precisely, with exactness; definitively means finally, conclusively.

Deliver. “He delivered an oration,” or “delivered a lecture.” Say, He made an oration, or gave a lecture.

Demean for Debase or Degrade. “He demeaned himself by accepting charity.” The word relates, not to meanness, but to demeanor, conduct, behavior. One may demean oneself with dignity and credit.

Demise for Death. Usually said of a person of note. Demise means the lapse, as by death, of some authority, distinction or privilege, which passes to another than the one that held it; as the demise of the Crown.

Democracy for Democratic Party. One could as properly call the Christian Church “the Christianity.”

Dépôt for Station. “Railroad dépôt.” A dépôt is a place of deposit; as, a dépôt of supply for an army.

Deprivation for Privation. “The mendicant showed the effects of deprivation.” Deprivation refers to the act of depriving, taking away from; privation is the state of destitution, of not having.

Dilapidated for Ruined. Said of a building, or other structure. But the word is from the Latin lapis, a stone, and cannot properly be used of any but a stone structure.

Directly for Immediately. “I will come directly” means that I will come by the most direct route.

Dirt for EarthSoil, or Gravel. A most disagreeable Americanism, discredited by general (and Presidential) use. “Make the dirt fly.” Dirt means filth.

Distinctly for Distinctively. “The custom is distinctly Oriental.” Distinctly is plainly; distinctively, in a way to distinguish one thing from others.

Donate for Give. Good American, but not good English.

Doubtlessly. A doubly adverbial form, like “illy.”

Dress for Gown. Not so common as it was a few years ago. Dress means the entire costume.

Each Other for One Another. “The three looked at each other.” That is, each looked at the other. But there were more than one other; so we should say they looked at one another, which means that each looked at another. Of two, say each other; of more than two, one another.

Edify for Please, or Entertain. Edify means to build; it has, therefore, the sense of uplift, improvement—usually moral, or spiritual.

Electrocution. To one having even an elementary knowledge of Latin grammar this word is no less than disgusting, and the thing meant by it is felt to be altogether too good for the word’s inventor.

Empty for Vacant. Say, an empty bottle; but, a vacant house.

Employé. Good French, but bad English. Say, employee.

Endorse for Approve. To endorse is to write upon the back of, or to sign the promissory note of another. It is a commercial word, having insufficient dignity for literary use. You may endorse a check, but you approve a policy, or statement.

Endways. A corruption of endwise.

Entitled for AuthorizedPrivileged. “The man is not entitled to draw rations.” Say, entitled to rations. Entitled is not to be followed by an infinitive.

Episode for OccurrenceEvent, etc. Properly, an episode is a narrative that is a subordinate part of another narrative. An occurrence considered by itself is not an episode.

Equally as for Equally. “This is equally as good.” Omit as. “He was of the same age, and equally as tall.” Say, equally tall.

Equivalent for Equal. “My salary is equivalent to yours.”

Essential for Necessary. This solecism is common among the best writers of this country and England. “It is essential to go early”; “Irrigation is essential to cultivation of arid lands,” and so forth. One thing is essential to another thing only if it is of the essence of it—an important and indispensable part of it, determining its nature; the soul of it.

Even for Exact. “An even dozen.”

Every for EntireFull. “The president had every confidence in him.”

Every for Ever. “Every now and then.” This is nonsense: there can be no such thing as a now and then, nor, of course, a number of now and thens. Now and then is itself bad enough, reversing as it does the sequence of things, but it is idiomatic and there is no quarreling with it. But “every” is here a corruption of ever, meaning repeatedly, continually.

Ex. “Ex-President,” “an ex-convict,” and the like. Say, former. In England one may say, Mr. Roosevelt, sometime President; though the usage is a trifle archaic.

Example for Problem. A heritage from the text-books. “An example in arithmetic.” An equally bad word for the same thing is “sum”: “Do the sum,” for Solve the problem.

Excessively for Exceedingly. “The disease is excessively painful.” “The weather is excessively cold.” Anything that is painful at all is excessively so. Even a slight degree or small amount of what is disagreeable or injurious is excessive—that is to say, redundant, superfluous, not required.

Executed. “The condemned man was executed.” He was hanged, or otherwise put to death; it is the sentence that is executed.

Executive for Secret. An executive session of a deliberative body is a session for executive business, as distinguished from legislative. It is commonly secret, but a secret session is not necessarily executive.

Expect for Believe, or Suppose. “I expect he will go.” Say, I believe (suppose or think) he will go; or, I expect him to go.

Expectorate for Spit. The former word is frequently used, even in laws and ordinances, as a euphemism for the latter. It not only means something entirely different, but to one with a Latin ear is far more offensive.

Experience for Suffer, or Undergo. “The sinner experienced a change of heart.” This will do if said lightly or mockingly. It does not indicate a serious frame of mind in the speaker.

Extend for Proffer. “He extended an invitation.” One does not always hold out an invitation in one’s hand; it may be spoken or sent.

Fail. “He failed to note the hour.” That implies that he tried to note it, but did not succeed. Failure carries always the sense of endeavor; when there has been no endeavor there is no failure. A falling stone cannot fail to strike you, for it does not try; but a marksman firing at you may fail to hit you; and I hope he always will.

Favor for Resemble. “The child favors its father.”

Feel of for Feel. “The doctor felt of the patient’s head.” “Smell of” and “taste of” are incorrect too.

Feminine for Female. “A feminine member of the club.” Feminine refers, not to sex proper, but to gender, which may be defined as the sex of words. The same is true of masculine.

Fetch for Bring. Fetching includes, not only bringing, but going to get—going for and returning with. You may bring what you did not go for.

Finances for Wealth, or Pecuniary Resources.

Financial for Pecuniary. “His financial reward”; “he is financially responsible,” and so forth.

Firstly. If this word could mean anything it would mean firstlike, whatever that might mean. The ordinal numbers should have no adverbial form: “firstly,” “secondly,” and the rest are words without meaning.

Fix. This is, in America, a word-of-all-work, most frequently meaning repair, or prepare. Do not so use it.

Forebears for Ancestors. The word is sometimes spelled forbears, a worse spelling than the other, but not much. If used at all it should be spelled forebeers, for it means those who have been before. A forebe-er is one who fore-was. Considered in any way, it is a senseless word.

Forecasted. For this abominable word we are indebted to the weather bureau—at least it was not sent upon us until that affliction was with us. Let us hope that it may some day be losted from the language.

Former and Latter. Indicating the first and the second of things previously named, these words are unobjectionable if not too far removed from the names that they stand for. If they are they confuse, for the reader has to look back to the names. Use them sparingly.

Funeral Obsequies. Tautological. Say, obsequies; the word is now used in none but a funereal sense.

Fully for Definitively, or Finally. “After many preliminary examinations he was fully committed for trial.” The adverb is meaningless: a defendant is never partly committed for trial. This is a solecism to which lawyers are addicted. And sometimes they have been heard to say “fullied.”

Funds for Money. “He was out of funds.” Funds are not money in general, but sums of money or credit available for particular purposes.

Furnish for Provide, or Supply. “Taxation furnished the money.” A pauper may furnish a house if some one will provide the furniture, or the money to buy it. “His flight furnishes a presumption of guilt.” It supplies it.

Generally for Usually. “The winds are generally high.” “A fool is generally vain.” This misuse of the word appears to come of abbreviating: Generally speaking, the weather is bad. A fool, to speak generally, is vain.

Gent for Gentleman. Vulgar exceedingly.

Genteel. This word, meaning polite, or well mannered, was once in better repute than it is now, and its noun, gentility, is still not infrequently found in the work of good writers. Genteel is most often used by those who write, as the Scotchman of the anecdote joked—wi’ deeficulty.

Gentleman. It is not possible to teach the correct use of this overworked word: one must be bred to it. Everybody knows that it is not synonymous with man, but among the “genteel” and those ambitious to be thought “genteel” it is commonly so used in discourse too formal for the word “gent.” To use the word gentleman correctly, be one.

Genuine for Authentic, or Veritable. “A genuine document,” “a genuine surprise,” and the like.

Given. “The soldier was given a rifle.” What was given is the rifle, not the soldier. “The house was given a coat (coating) of paint.” Nothing can be “given” anything.

Goatee. In this country goatee is frequently used for a tuft of beard on the point of the chin—what is sometimes called “an imperial,” apparently because the late Emperor Napoleon III wore his beard so. His Majesty the Goat is graciously pleased to wear his beneath the chin.

Got Married for Married. If this is correct we should say, also, “got dead” for died; one expression is as good as the other.

Gotten for Got. This has gone out of good use, though in such compounded words as begotten and misbegotten it persists respectably.

Graduated for Was Graduated.

Gratuitous for Unwarranted. “A gratuitous assertion.” Gratuitous means without cost.

Grueling. Used chiefly by newspaper reporters; as, “He was subjected to a grueling cross-examination.” “It was grueling weather.” Probably a corruption of grilling.

Gubernatorial. Eschew it; it is not English, is needless and bombastic. Leave it to those who call a political office a “chair.” “Gubernatorial chair” is good enough for them. So is hanging.

Had Better for Would Better. This is not defensible as an idiom, as those who always used it before their attention was directed to it take the trouble to point out. It comes of such contractions as he’d for he would, I’d for I would. These clipped words are erroneously restored as “he had,” “I had.” So we have such monstrosities as “He had better beware,” “I had better go.”

Hail for Come. “He hails from Chicago.” This is sea speech, and comes from the custom of hailing passing ships. It will not do for serious discourse.

Have Got for Have. “I have got a good horse” directs attention rather to the act of getting than to the state of having, and represents the capture as recently completed.

Head over Heels. A transposition of words hardly less surprising than (to the person most concerned) the mischance that it fails to describe. What is meant is heels over head.

Healthy for Wholesome. “A healthy climate.” “A healthy occupation.” Only a living thing can be healthy.

Helpmeet for Helpmate. In Genesis Adam’s wife is called “an help meet for him,” that is, fit for him. The ridiculous word appears to have had no other origin.

Hereafter for Henceforth. Hereafter means at some time in the future; henceforth, always in the future. The penitent who promises to be good hereafter commits himself to the performance of a single good act, not to a course of good conduct.

Honeymoon. Moon here means month, so it is incorrect to say, “a week’s honeymoon,” or, “Their honeymoon lasted a year.”

Horseflesh for Horses. A singularly senseless and disagreeable word which, when used, as it commonly is, with reference to hippophilism, savors rather more of the spit than of the spirit.

Humans as a Noun. We have no single word having the general yet limited meaning that this is sometimes used to express—a meaning corresponding to that of the word animals, as the word men would if it included women and children. But there is time enough to use two words.

Hung for Hanged. A bell, or a curtain, is hung, but a man is hanged. Hung is the junior form of the participle, and is now used for everything but man. Perhaps it is our reverence for the custom of hanging men that sacredly preserves the elder form—as some, even, of the most zealous American spelling reformers still respect the u in Saviour.

Hurry for Haste and Hasten. To hurry is to hasten in a more or less disorderly manner. Hurry is misused, also, in another sense: “There is no hurry”—meaning, There is no reason for haste.

Hurt for Harm. “It does no hurt.” To be hurt is to feel pain, but one may be harmed without knowing it. To spank a child, or flout a fool, hurts without harming.

Idea for ThoughtPurposeExpectation, etc. “I had no idea that it was so cold.” “When he went abroad it was with no idea of remaining.”

Identified with. “He is closely identified with the temperance movement.” Say, connected.

Ilk for Kind. “Men of that ilk.” This Scotch word has a narrowly limited and specific meaning. It relates to an ancestral estate having the same name as the person spoken of. Macdonald of that ilk means, Macdonald of Macdonald. The phrase quoted above is without meaning.

Illy for Ill. There is no such word as illy, for ill itself is an adverb.

Imaginary Line. The adjective is needless. Geometrically, every line is imaginary; its graphic representation is a mark. True the text-books say, draw a line, but in a mathematical sense the line already exists; the drawing only makes its course visible.

In for Into. “He was put in jail.” “He went in the house.” A man may be in jail, or be in a house, but when the act of entrance—the movement of something from the outside to the inside of another thing—is related the correct word is into if the latter thing is named.

Inaugurate for BeginEstablish, etc. Inauguration implies some degree of formality and ceremony.

Incumbent for Obligatory. “It was incumbent upon me to relieve him.” Infelicitous and work-worn. Say, It was my duty, or, if enamored of that particular metaphor, It lay upon me.

Individual. As a noun, this word means something that cannot be considered as divided, a unit. But it is incorrect to call a man, woman or child an individual, except with reference to mankind, to society or to a class of persons. It will not do to say, “An individual stood in the street,” when no mention nor allusion has been made, nor is going to be made, to some aggregate of individuals considered as a whole.

Indorse. See Endorse.

Insane Asylum. Obviously an asylum cannot be unsound in mind. Say, asylum for the insane.

In Spite of. In most instances it is better to say despite.

Inside of. Omit the preposition.

Insignificant for Trivial, or Small. Insignificant means not signifying anything, and should be used only in contrast, expressed or implied, with something that is important for what it implies. The bear’s tail may be insignificant to a naturalist tracing the animal’s descent from an earlier species, but to the rest of us, not concerned with the matter, it is merely small.

Insoluble for Unsolvable. Use the former word for material substances, the latter for problems.

Inst.Prox.Ult. These abbreviations of instante mense (in the present month), proximo mense (in the next month) and ultimo mense (in the last month), are serviceable enough in commercial correspondence, but, like A.M., P.M. and many other contractions of Latin words, could profitably be spared from literature.

Integrity for Honesty. The word means entireness, wholeness. It may be rightly used to affirm possession of all the virtues, that is, unity of moral character.

1 2Next page


Social media scholar. Troublemaker. Twitter specialist. Unapologetic web evangelist. Explorer. Writer. Organizer.

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Back to top button