Monday, June 25, 2007

Usage: Words Often Confused. D. E.

Question: How can I clarify words that are frequently confused?

Answer: In this issue of "Q & A on Writing," I clarify the meanings of words often confused: desegregation/integration; different from/different than; disc/disk; disinterested/uninterested; due to; each other/one another; East/east; either/either...or; emigrate/immigrate; eminent/imminent; enormity/ enormousness; evade/avoid; everyone/ every one.

With each item, I attach a "Scale of Distraction," a measure of how many readers are likely to be distracted by the mistakes:

* Who cares?
** Some people you respect will be distracted by the mistake.
*** Many educated people will be distracted by the mistake.

"Desegregation" = ending separation of ethnic groups; "integration" = achieving equality. (**)

"Different from" is preferred. If unavoidable, "different than." (**)

"Disc" = recording devices like "compact discs"; "disk" = storage devices with computers ("hard disk") and, anatomy, "slipped disk." (*)

"Disinterested" = impartial; "uninterested" = bored. (***)

"Due to": almost always avoid. Use "because of...." For exception, see the NYT Manual of Style and Usage. (**)

"Each other" = Two people look at "each other"; "one another" = more than two people look at "one another." (*)

"East" = capitalize region; "east" = lower case for direction. (**)

"Either" as subject is singular ("Either is...."; "either...or": if both are followed by singular ("Either the plane or train is possible"), use singular verb; if "or" is followed by plural ("Either a plane or several trains are possible"), use plural verb. (***)

"Emigrate" = depart; "immigrate" = arrive. Both take "from" or "to."(**)

"Eminent" = honored; "imminent" = about to occur. (***)

"Enormity" = horror; "enormousness" = size.

"Evade" = deceit; "avoid" = neutral term. (**)

"Everyone" = all; "every one" = each of a group. Both singular. (**)

Note: The preceding usage items were taken from a variety of resources, including dictionaries and style manuals. For me, the best style manual for desk-top reference is The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage. Allan M. Siegal and William G. Connolly. Times Books. 1990. Items in capitalization, usage and punctuation, etc., are alphabetized and easy to find, with explanations that are clear and concise.

All the best. RayS.

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