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The Blogger Abides: Words and Phrases I've Misused

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Have you ever wondered what it's like to interview famous people who are intimidatingly awesome and/or rude? Have you asked yourself, "Do bloggers wear pants?" Have you mused aloud, "How can I write words, using a computing device, for small quantities of money?" I thought so. Read on for an excerpt from the book -- this is from Frequent Offenders, which is chapter seventy-seven (I'm not kidding) in
my new opus.

Frequent Offenders

Here’s a list of words and phrases that are problematic and/or commonly misused. I hope these explanations save you from embarrassing yourself someday.

Alot

“A lot” is two words. If you write “alot” you are either misspelling “allot” (synonym: allocate) or you’re about to get kicked out of Professional Writer Club. (See also: the Alot, Allie Brosh’s imaginary creature/)

Could Care Less

A lot of people say “I could care less” when they mean “I couldn’t care less.” Think about it. Think really hard. Then start saying “couldn’t,” unless you don’t care about sounding like a doofus. (Practical note: commenters will nail you on this one, and there is no defensible case for the “incorrect” form. So, really, this one is a slam-dunk.)

Baited Breath

Imagine my surprise when I wrote a sentence like, “I’ve been waiting for the new Neal Stephenson book with baited breath,” and commenters dryly informed me that the correct spelling is “bated.” Look it up. It’s “bated breath.” Who knew? (I didn’t.)

Moot

The word “moot” is deeply problematic: part of the world thinks it means “open to debate,” the rest of the world thinks it means “not worth debating.” There is no proper way around this, so I suggest you try to stop using this word, if you intend to write for a broad audience. I wrote a post about it entitled The Meaning of the Word “Moot” is Moot. People still argued with me.

Graduated High School

You graduated from high school. You did not “graduate high school.” (Or college. Or clown college. Or whatever.) Use the “from,” otherwise people will rip you a new one.

Needs Fixed

This colloquialism (omitting “to be” in the middle of a statement) is controversial because part of the English-speaking world thinks it’s perfectly fine vernacular (which could mean it’s part of using your voice), and the other half is baffled about why you’re omitting a seemingly crucial verb. I never encountered this construction until I moved to the west coast, though I gather it’s a regional thing in many places. Anyway, I’d suggest you include all relevant verbs in your writing to avoid confusion.

Tough Road to Hoe

A lot of idioms don’t seem to make sense, particularly if you (like me) never really heard them right, and just said what you thought you heard. It’s “a tough row to hoe,” not “a tough road to hoe.” Hoeing a row is something you do in a garden. With a hoe. It’s tough. You don’t hoe a road. I think maybe I thought it was “a tough road a-ho” for a while, which also seems to mean nothing (unless perhaps that’s short for “ahoy”), but maybe in some old-timey slang from my primitive brain it means something…anyway, pro tip: when using some seemingly nonsensical idiom in your writing, Google it first to figure it out what it really is and how to write it properly.

Sewing Confusion

Sowing is another garden idiom–you sow seeds into the ground. I’m not sure if this happens before or after hoeing the row. Probably after. Anyway, watch out for the easy misspelling here–“sow” is easily mistyped as “sew.”

Myriad Plethoras

The word “plethora” traditionally has a negative connotation–so you’d say something like, “I’m pretty sure she’s crazy because she owns a plethora of cats and also never wears shoes.” In modern usage it’s often used much like “myriad,” just meaning “a lot of something”–but some readers will freak out, because of its traditional use as “a problematically large number or amount of something.” Further, the word myriad actually has a positive connotation–so you’d say something like, “Myriad stars shone from above.” (Note: debate rages over the possible uses of the word myriad. In the example just now, I used it as an adjective. It may also be used as a noun, just like plethora: “A myriad of stars shone from above.”)

In short: myriad good, plethora bad (due to quantity).

Proffered and Preferred

To proffer is to offer; to prefer is to favor. It’s easy to mistype these or have auto-correct mess it up for you.

Literally the Best Tip Ever

The word “literally” roughly means “actually.” It has a convenient antonym: “figuratively.” So while I would literally pitch a baseball, I would figuratively pitch a fit. Somehow, these two terms get mixed up in people’s brains (and to be fair, this has been going on for centuries–the word “literally” is misused in Little Women). There are whole websites devoted to the misuse of these terms. In short, if you use the term “literally” solely for emphasis, you’re probably doing it wrong.

Hopefully I Hope

This is pedantic, but get used to it–pedants will comment on your blog posts. “I hope” means what you think it means. For example, “I hope it doesn’t rain today.” However, “hopefully” is an adverb. Thus, technically speaking, “Hopefully it won’t rain today” is nonsensical. A proper use of “hopefully” would be: “The boy gazed hopefully at the bag of Halloween candy in his mother’s hands.”

Technical note: because of overwhelming common usage, “hopefully” is arguably valid in its non-adverbial form; it occupies a similar linguistic space as terms like “interestingly,” “frankly,” and “unfortunately.” I freely misuse all of those terms, but for some reason, “hopefully” does bug me.

Different From/Than/To

There are some instances of “different than” in American English, and “different to” in British English. In general, however, the best and most common form is “different from.” For example: “Joe’s haircut was different from Steve’s.” In general, I always try to use “different from,” although such esteemed authorities as the Oxford Dictionary Online suggest that all forms are equally valid. Be aware that if you write for American pedants (I mean readers), “different to” will catch the most flak.

What Did I Leave Out?

I'll eventually have to "revise and expand" this thing to cash in on lucrative paperback sales. What would you add to this list?

Now the Hard Sell

The Blogger AbidesThe book is available now for Kindle. If you don't have a Kindle, consult my website for the answer to the oft-asked question I don't have a Kindle. How can I read this? (Short answer: on your phone, tablet, web browser, Mac, PC, or smart fridge.)
 
Pro tip: if you're an Amazon Prime member and have a Kindle, you can "borrow" the book for free from your Kindle. You should do that. There's also a free preview available for anyone -- grab that from the rightmost column of the Amazon page.

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Words
'Froyo,' 'Troll,' and 'Sriracha' Added to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary
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Looking for the right word to describe the time you spend drinking before heading out to a party, or a faster way to say “frozen yogurt?" Merriam-Webster is here to help. The 189-year-old English vocabulary giant has just added 250 new words and definitions to their online dictionary, including pregame and froyo.

New words come and go quickly, and it’s Merriam-Webster’s job to keep tabs on the terms that have staying power. “As always, the expansion of the dictionary mirrors the expansion of the language, and reaches into all the various cubbies and corners of the lexicon,” they wrote in their announcement.

Froyo is just one of the recent additions to come from the culinary world. Bibimbap, a Korean rice dish; choux pastry, a type of dough; and sriracha, a Thai chili sauce that’s been around for decades but has just recently exploded in the U.S., are now all listed on Merriam-Webster's website.

Of course, the internet was once again a major contributor to this most recent batch of words. Some new terms, like ransomware (“malware that requires the victim to pay a ransom to access encrypted files”) come from the tech world, while words like troll ("to harass, criticize, or antagonize [someone] especially by provocatively disparaging or mocking public statements, postings, or acts”) were born on social media. Then there’s the Internet of Things, a concept that shifts the web off our phones and computers and into our appliances.

Hive mind, dog whistle, and working memory are just a few of the new entries to receive the Merriam-Webster stamp of approval. To learn more about how some words make it into the dictionary while others get left out, check these behind-the-scenes secrets of dictionary editors.

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Words
How New Words Become Mainstream
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If you used the words jeggings, muggle, or binge-watch in a sentence 30 years ago, you would have likely been met with stares of confusion. But today these words are common enough to hold spots in the Oxford English Dictionary. Such lingo is a sign that English, as well as any other modern language, is constantly evolving. But the path a word takes to enter the general lexicon isn’t always a straightforward one.

In the video below, TED-Ed lays out how some new words become part of our everyday speech while others fade into obscurity. Some words used by English speakers are borrowed from other languages, like mosquito (Spanish), avatar (Sanskrit), and prairie (French). Other “new” words are actually old ones that have developed different meanings over time. Nice, for example, used to only mean silly, foolish, or ignorant, and meat was used as blanket term to describe any solid food given to livestock.

The internet alone is responsible for a whole new section of our vocabulary, but even the words most exclusive to the web aren’t always original. For instance, the word meme was first used by Richard Dawkins in his 1976 book The Selfish Gene.

To learn more about the true origins of the words we use on a regular basis, check out the full story from TED-Ed below.

[h/t TED-Ed]

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