Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Which Word Is It?

Did you know that English is the third most natively spoken language in the world? So how many words do we have at our disposal?

That’s hard to say. The number of words listed in the various dictionaries vary; The Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd edition (OED2) includes over 600,000 definitions, Webster's Third New International Dictionary, Unabridged estimates the number to be much higher, and others sources claim the English language has recently crossed the 1,000,000-word threshold. It’s hard to say, however it is estimated that about 25,000 words are added to the language each year.

Is it any wonder we writers are sometime confused about which word to use? I took the following samples from “The Wrong Word Dictionary” by Dave Dowling, Marion Street Press. A neat little resource book to own and keep on your desk.

Okay, so which it is?

Abstruse or Obtuse?
  • Abstruse: complex, deep or difficult to understand.
  • Obtuse: dull witted, not too sharp, or slows to understand.

 Bisect or Dissect?

  • Bisect: To divide into two equal or identical parts.
  • Dissect: To cut apart and examine.

 Compulsion or Compunction?

  •  Compulsion: Refers to a forced impulse, compliance, or drive.
  •  Compunction: To remorse or regret one’s actions.

 Defuse or Diffuse?

  •  Defuse: To remove a fuse (usually from an explosive).
  •  Diffuse: To spread out.

 Effect or Affect?

  •  Effect: (verb) To bring about or accomplish. Effect (noun) means result.
  •  Affect: (verb) To influence or change.

Fewer or Less?

  • Fewer: Refers to a number of individual persons or things.
  • Less: Refers to the quantity or something that cannot be counted as individual items.

Gibe or Jibe?

  • Gibe: To jeer, mock, or tease a person.
  • Jibe: to agree with something.

Hoard or Horde?

  • Hoard: A hidden find or cache.
  • Horde: A crowd or throng.

Incite or Insight?

  • Incite: To arouse or provoke action.
  • Insight: Refers to mental vision or understanding.

Jump start or kick start?

  • Jump start: Refers to getting something started or revived.
  • Kick start: Refers to stating a motorcycle.

Ugh, I have to look this one up every time!

Lay, Lie, or Lain?

  • Lay: To place or to put something in a place (requires a direct object).
  • Lie: To be in a horizontal position.
Dowlling gives a great example in his reference book: "The chicken lays an egg while the farmer lies in the hay."

Mantel or Mantle?

  • Mantel: A shelf.
  • Mantle: A cloak or something that covers like a cloak.

Notable or Noticeable?

  • Notable: Worthy of notice.
  • Noticeable: Means readily observed.

Oppose or Appose?

  • Oppose: To act adversely or in opposition.
  • Appose: To place near one another or to juxtapose.

Perquisite or Prerequisite?

  • Perquisite: Refers to a special benefit or privilege (a perq).
  • Prerequisite: Refers to something required in advance.

Renounce or Denounce?

  • Renounce: To give up claim to something.
  • Denounce: To criticize or condemn something openly.

Some time, Sometime, or Sometimes?

  • Some time: A period of time.
  • Sometime: Refers to an indefinite time in the future.
  • Sometimes: Means now and then.

Tortuous or Torturous?

  • Tortuous: Means winding or crooked.
  • Torturous: Means causing pain.

Urban or Urbane?

  • Urban: Refers to a city.
  • Urbane: Means polished or smooth, as in a person’s demeanor.

Varied or Various?

  • Varied: Past tense of vary.
  • Various: Means distinct, diverse, or of many different kinds.

Wary or Weary?

  • Wary: Means cautious or watchful
  • Weary: Means tired.

 Yoke or Yolk?

  • Yoke: A crosspiece holding two things together. As in the yoke round the neck of the ox.
  • Yolk: The yellow part of the egg.


Aaron Paul Lazar said...

Thanks, Marta. This is a good list! My nemesis has always been affect and effect. I can't seem to get it straight in my head. And when I think I have it, months later, it's gone. LOL. I think it's because I've seen far too many descriptions of the words. In one case, I read that affect is only a noun and effect is only a verb, or maybe it was the other way around, but I see that THAT was wrong from your description above. I'm pretty good on the other words above, although I had to drill like mad to get the lay, lie, lain thing down!!!

Aaron Paul Lazar said...

A tip for our readers: The Grammar Girl has helped me out a lot. You can sign up for her updates online, buy her book, or browse her site. Here's a link for "affect vs. effect" which is pretty cool.