Tuesday, August 23, 2011

More Commonly Confused Words

On my website, I have a page dedicated to Commonly Confused Words. Finding them in novels I read helps me realize just how often writers don't understand what words mean. They may hear a word and, having no idea how it  is spelled, not realize that the wrong spelling totally changes the meaning of the sentence. Whatever they intend to communicate is lost.

A good example is the accolade, shouted as an encouragement, especially in Parliament in days long ago: "Hear, hear!" Written out properly, you can see it means, "Listen, listen!" (Meaning: This person has said something worthwhile with which I agree.) For the past few years, however, I've increasingly seen it written: "Here, here!" as in, "Present, present!" (Pronounced PREZ-ent, not pree-ZENT.) That, as you can see, has quite a different meaning, and renders the encouragement, at least in written form, meaningless. (Implication: The person has said something, and I'm in the same location.)

In a novel I'm currently reading (title and author omitted to protect the innocent, namely me!), I came across a word confusion I hadn't previously encountered. The protagonist discovered flecks of paint in a suspicious place. The author (who writes a very entertaining story, by the way) consistently refers to the flecks of paint as specs. "Specs" is a fairly recent word, being an abbreviation of specifications. The singular is spec, from specification. For writers, on spec is short for on speculation, which means you're writing something hoping an editor will buy it for a magazine. (The opposite of on spec is on assignment.)

What the author meant was that there were specks of paint, tiny little flecks of color that weren't where they were supposed to be. Instead, I thought of the qualities of the paint, not the size.

When we as writers use the wrong word, either through our mistake or (Heaven forbid!) our editor's, we run the risk of losing readers. While this author has not lost me, because the story is in a contemporary setting and it's otherwise so well written, had it been set before the 1960s, I'd have put it aside in a heartbeat. Spec in that case would not only have been a confused word but an anachronism. (See my last post.) Loyal readers are worth their weight in gold, now more than at any other time in history. So many other options are available to potential readers--film, TV, internet, etc.--that we want to do all we can to encourage them to read our stories. Taking the time to find the right word may not seem like much, but words are the tools of our craft. Using them correctly is the mark of a master craftsman.

What are your favorite (or least favorite) confused words?

1 comment:

Marion Faith Laird said...

So many words, so much confusion! *g*