Friday, February 26, 2016

One is not the other, part 1

Nosy insects and one large snail

Deforestation may disappear if we don't all do our part

You've probably seen the T-shirt reading "I am silently correcting your grammar." I do that. I also flinch when people use one word but clearly mean another similar-sounding word. I think it comes from learning the words only by listening and not by reading. That is the charitable explanation; other days, I think it comes from wanting to be impressive, wanting to make an impression, more than from meaning what you are saying. Hall of annoying examples:

1. uninterested for disinterested. Disinterested is having no stake in the outcome. Uninterested is not being interested. Antonin Scalia often failed to recuse himself from cases in which he had an interest, in which he was not disinterested. Clarence Thomas often looks uninterested, as when he seems not to be paying attention. You may want the executor of your will to be disinterested. Your heirs will want them not to be uninterested.

2. decimate for, oh, slaughter, annihilate. Decimate meant originally to kill one out of every ten. Still does, with metaphorical leeway on the killing. There remain nine to behold the dead one. Ebola did not decimate populations; it killed nine out of ten, leaving but the one. Those communities were not decimated. It was much much worse than that.

3. livid for enraged, furious, boiling mad. Thing is, livid means pale. To be pale with rage is to be coldly, even chillingly angry, ready to act, not impulsively. Most of the time, we are red with rage, ready to do something harsh (and possibly but not necessarily stupid).

That's enough for now. I'll store up some more as they occur. Oh, this is so much better than merely *thinking* the correction.

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