Pet peeves: Words

May 24, 2008

  • Myself as in “John and myself went to…”. Whatever happened to “John and I went to…”? And no, it’s not “John and me went to…” as you can’t take away the “John and” bit and still make sense. If John wasn’t there you would say “I went to…” not “Me went to…” so it has to be “John and I…”.
  • Your (ownership, such as “your dog”) versus you’re (abbreviation for “you are”).
  • The use of commence instead of the plain English begin or start.
  • The expression at this point in time instead of now.
  • Chilli: A pet peeve of mine is restaurant menus! While bad spelling gets to me (yes, I know there are more important things in the world to worry about), what REALLY peeves me are blatant inconsistencies on a single menu. For example, did you know that the hot ingredient added to a dish can be spelled chili, chilli, chile (that one’s a country in South America!), chille, chilie, chillie, chilly (cold)…? According to the dictionaries I checked, the first two are both correct. I really don’t mind which of these two they use—just as long as they spell the word the same way in every instance. Is that too much to ask? (Addendum: Someone who shall remain nameless refuses to eat at restaurants that have misspelled words on their menus! That’s probably taking it a little far…)
  • Double negatives, such as “I don’t know nothing”.
  • Complementary/complimentary: Just remember that you would COMPLIment someone on their acCOMPLIshment.
  • May/can: (from K L, Canada) “Many people feel that may is a polite way of saying can. The word may denotes permission or a likelihood/possibility—it does not denote capability. If you are trying to say that the software has the capability to do something or that the option for doing something is available, then you should use can. So, if the system allows the user to do something, say that the user can do it, not that the user may do it. The word may is acceptable in some situations that involve likelihood or permission, such as: It may be possible to…; The licensee may make one copy of the software…; and You may find it helpful to… However, these next phrases need can: The report can be modified… NOT The report may be modified…; You can select… NOT You may select… Someone once told me that not only is may not a polite way of saying can but that using may can actually be an insult to the readers. It implies that the readers need your permission to do something, when they clearly do not.”
  • Lose v. loose: To distinguish the words lose (as in ‘lose the game’) and loose (as in clothes), think of the words ‘lost’ (single O) and ‘footloose’ (double O).
  • there (place), their (belonging to them; people), they’re (they are)
  • baited breath (should be bated otherwise it’s fish breath!)
  • two (number), too (as well; also), to (e.g. to run, go to)
  • weather (rain, hail, or shine), whether (maybe, maybe not), wether (sheep)
  • discreet (private), discrete (separate)
  • For the programmers among you:
    • todo and goto – WRONG! Both are two words—to do and go to—when you are writing for users. Goto may be a legitimate programming expression but it is NOT an English word, so don’t use it on menu bars, in user documentation etc.
    • id/Id/IDid and Id is the ego; the only acceptable usage for identification or identity is ID.
  • Isle (island), aisle (corridor). From a colleague: “Our local supermarket put up some new signs several months ago—Isle 1, Isle 2 etc. These are ‘professionally’ printed signs; I use the word ‘professionally’ in its loosest sense. Despite protests to the owner, the signs are still up. The reply was: “…it doesn’t matter does it?” No wonder the average kid is confused!”
  • That or which: There’s a very simple rule for deciding the correct one to use that works in most instances: Use that if there is no comma; use which if a comma precedes it.
  • Its or it’s: It’s is only ever a contraction, not a possessive, so if you couldn’t say it is, it has, or it was in place of it’s, then you must use its. For example, “It’s raining” can be written in full as “It is raining”. However, the sentence: “The dog rolled in the mud and its coat was dirty” uses the possessive “its” and can never be written in full as “The dog rolled in the mud and it is coat was dirty”.
  • Then (time), than (comparison)
  • Use thank you, NEVER thankyou.
  • Use a lot (e.g. many) NEVER alot. If you’re referring to an allocation, then it’s allot. (And if you want to see what an alot looks like, check out this page: http://hyperboleandahalf.blogspot.com/2010/04/alot-is-better-than-you-at-everything.html)
  • Use always, NEVER allways.
  • Viola (musical instrument), voila! (a French exclamation)
  • Sight (vision), site (place), cite (refer to)
  • Use could have, NEVER could of.

See also:

[This article was adapted from various CyberText newsletters published prior to 2008; links last checked March 2009]

One comment

  1. How about my favorite pet peeve, fewer and less? ;-)

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