The Constant Grammarian, Part 2: Mean What You Say
As the old saying goes, you can take the girl out of copy editing, but you can’t stop her from judging you for spelling it “judgement.” This Canary blog series explores common errors and quick lessons I’ve gathered from years of experience as a former copy editor who made a living correcting other people’s mistakes. Don’t let these things happen to you!
The Constant Grammarian is back, after a super-busy fall season, to give you a friendly heads-up (note: not a “friendly head’s-up”) about a few words you’ve probably been unwittingly slaughtering. The words don’t mind — and they can’t fight back — but writers and editors prone to pet peeves just might delete you forever if you ask them to “except” your LinkedIn friend request.
Below are a few of my favorite misused words, inspired by John Gingerich’s January column in Lit Reactor:
Anxious. As Gingerich says, “Unless you’re frightened of them, you shouldn’t say you’re ‘anxious to see your friends.’ You’re actually ‘eager,’ or ‘excited.’ To be ‘anxious’ implies a looming fear, dread or anxiety. It doesn’t mean you’re looking forward to something.”
Nauseous. According to The Big Bang Theory’s Sheldon Cooper, most people give themselves far too much credit when they say they’re feeling nauseous: This word is first defined as having the ability to produce nausea in others, not feeling like you’re going to ralph. Sheldon would prefer it if we correctly announced we feel “nauseated.” (Note: Merriam-Webster is skeptical.)
Electrocuted. First, a fun fact: “Electrocution” is a portmanteau of “electric chair” and “execution.” If you touch a live wire (don’t do that) and survive, you have suffered “electric shock.” However, if you’ve been electrocuted, you are dead. Relatedly, if you’ve drowned (don’t do that), you are dead.
Annual. These things happen once a year. Don’t jinx yourself by calling it your “first annual Megadeath and macaron marathon” until you’ve got the second one on the books.
Poisonous. Snakes aren’t poisonous unless you eat them and then get sick. What makes a snakebite deadly is that pesky venom, so “venomous” is the word you want to use when calling that 911 operator from the middle of the desert. #worstnightmares
Jealousy. “The word ‘envy’ implies a longing for someone else’s good fortunes,” explains Gingerich. “’Jealousy’ is far more nefarious.” His example: If you covet your friend’s good looks, you’re envious. Jealousy is what happens when your boyfriend starts to notice.
Literally. “My brain is literally about to explode right now, you guys!” I advise you stand back and run for cover. Look up the difference between “literally” and “figuratively,” and then read this blog. You are welcome.
Related reading: The Constant Grammarian, Part 1: Seven Words and Phrases You Didn’t Know You Didn’t Know.
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