A voice for vocabulary, aka, a rant on proper usage

The English language is tough and resilient and has evolved miraculously over centuries, but it takes a huge amount of abuse. Once every .003 nanoseconds, it is misused somehow, somewhere. It is time for someone to speak up on behalf of the voiceless, our lovely language, which, sadly, is unable to speak for itself, despite a slew of wise, wordy weapons in its arsenal.

Here I am going to take a stand on behalf of the proper use of vocabulary. It won’t be pretty, but I’m going to expose the improper uses of words and then show which words should have been used in their places. Brace yourselves. (These are in no particular order, mind you.)

  • “Unphased.” As in, “she was unphased by his poor use of the word.” The word that should be used here is “unfazed.”
  • “Reigned in.” I’ve seen this time and again. “She had to reign in her bad language.” “Reign” has to do with royalty. I do believe that those who have blue blood would be appalled at this improper use of “reign.” The word that should rightly stand here tall and stately is “rein.” When we talk about “reining in” a horse, we use a rein. Even queens do not “reign in” the animals that draw their carriages.
  • I heard something pretty funny in “The Hunger Games.” A character said something was “very lethal.” “Lethal” means something kills you. So if it’s “very” lethal… hm. You would be “very” dead. Brings to mind that the only way you can be somewhat dead as opposed to very dead is if you were Westley in “The Princess Bride…”: “mostly dead.”
  • “Bazaar.” Really, how often do people write about street fairs? Probably not as often as they desire to refer to something being “bizarre,” or really strange.
  • “Peddle.” More people find themselves needing to use the word “pedal” than its frequently used homonym “peddle.” “Pedal” as a verb means to move a bike along by pushing pedals with your feet. “Peddle” means to sell something. One could peddle pedals in a bizarre bazaar, if shoppers are in need of replacement parts for their bicycles.
  • Predominate. I rarely have need to use this word, and I rarely see anyone else need to use it or use it correctly. What I DO see, however, very often, is the use of this word instead of “predominant,” an adjective meaning “having influence or power” or being the “primary” focus of something. Just say the word out loud, folks. It has an “n” in it.

This is just a start, mind you. I expect to be adding lots more over time. Anyone care to weigh in?

OK, time to add some more.

  • Ravish. Most of the time people use this word in writing, they mean “ravage.” Ravish is generally associated with rape, or just a lusty man taking a woman strongly in a bodice-ripper book. But ravage is about wreaking havoc or destroying. Ravage a town, and the buildings are destroyed, the people scattered. Ravish the people of a town, and outsiders will feel particularly outraged.
  • Tenants. Whenever I see this word used, the writer invariably is talking about the belief system of a religion or just some kind of way of life. Today, fittingly enough, I read an article on HLN.com about “11 words adults just can’t spell.” I agreed with a few as being common errors (the others just didn’t seem to be the most-screwed-up ones, in my opinion), and then I clicked over to another article on HLN about Alanis Morissette giving her opinion about attachment parenting. Naturally, the article spoke of the “tenants” of that way of raising kids, when what it needed to say was the “tenets” of that philosophy. So I clicked right over from an article on spelling errors and found a biggie on MY list right there on another one. I couldn’t refrain from posting a comment on that one.

Author: Cathy Carmode Lim

I'm a copy editor, writer, and book reviewer with three decades of experience. My book review website is RatedReads.com. I'm a mom of four and grandma of three.

3 thoughts on “A voice for vocabulary, aka, a rant on proper usage”

  1. Oh honey, as a fifth grade teacher, I almost lost my sanity trying to get children to use: your and you’re correctly.
    Let’s not even talk about: there, their, and they’re.
    And then, there were the children who actually thought that “were” was the word “where”.
    I tried to explain, “Where is a place!…It even has the word HERE in it, which is also a place!”
    And the sense of hearing, to hear, is NOT here, the place!
    The word hear, has the word EAR in it! You hEAR with your EAR!

    Did I use all those correctly?

  2. How about “he could care less.” I see that one cropping up more frequently of late, in the place of the correct “he could not care less.” For some reason, that one really bugs me.

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