Eeny, Meeny, Miney, Mo
by Cherie Tucker
Mark Twain said, “The difference between the right word and the
almost right word is the difference between lightning and a
lightning bug.” There are a few of those “close” words lurking about
today that it would behoove us all to be aware of, lest they take
over our fingers as we write.
of the most often seen disparities is everyday versus
every day. The first one, a single word, means ordinary or
commonplace. “Chaos is an everyday condition around
here.” The two-word every day means daily. You use it
to talk about something that happens each day. “He sends me flowers
every day.” (We know that’s not commonplace.)
Another often confused pair is comprise and compose.
The parts comprise the whole: “Five buildings comprise
this complex.” The whole is composed of the parts: “Our
competitor’s complex is composed of only four.” An easy way
to remember this one is to keep the o’s together. If your
comparison ends with of, you want composed, which also
has an o. Things are never comprised of.
that it may be too late to recover is the word nauseous for
nauseated. If you have an upset tummy and feel you must run
to the loo, you are nauseated. If your mere presence causes
others to have to run to the loo, you are nauseous, which by
definition is “causing nausea.” Currently, however, many people and
as many commercials use nauseous to mean nauseated.
Writers must choose what they wish their words to convey. If you
know your character would say, “I feel nauseous whenever I look at
that dress,” have her say that.
Correctness is not a substitute for appropriateness in the piece you
are writing. There is a story the late William A. Sabin, magnificent
wordsmith and author of the writer’s bible, The Gregg Reference
Manual, often told “of the visitor to New York who gave the
cabbie the exact fare but no tip. When the taxi driver still held
out his hand expectantly, the visitor inquired, ‘Isn’t that
correct?’ To which the cabbie replied, ‘It’s correct, lady, but it
language is always changing. Consider the word parent. A
couple of decades ago people had parents or became
parents. Nobody parented. There were no parenting
classes. Now it’s no longer just a noun; it’s been verbed and
adjectived. Many words have. But not all of them. Just remember that
in order to break rules intentionally, you must know what they are
in the first place. The words you choose control your reader’s mind.
Be sure they do what you want.
Cherie Tucker, owner of GrammarWorks, has taught writing basics to
professionals since 1987, presenting at the PNWA conference.
She currently teaches Practical Grammar for Editors at the
University of Washington’s Editing Certification program and edits