Confusing Words

We write fast and think more slowly. The words leap ahead of us, and we type what we “hear,” which often misses the bull’s-eye of accuracy.

Here are the ones I’ve noticed lately:

Trooper/trouper
A trooper is a military person or a police officer. We can have a troop of troopers–smaller than a squadron, and often used interchangeably with platoon.

A troupe is a group of performers. “The show must go on” is the rallying cry for performers who are sick or hurt–no matter, they are going to be brave and do what it takes to support the entire cast of the show.

Someone who braves through a lot of pain, effort, emotional upheaval or just plain work to get the project done is a trouper, not a trooper.

*     *     *

Peak/peek/pique

A visual will help here.

peekPeak is the top of a mountain or the best part of an experience.

Peek is to look or take a quick glance.

Pique (still pronounced ‘peek’ and not ‘pee-kay’) means to stimulate curiosity or interest or to annoy: She was piqued that he did not notice her new dress.

*     *     *    *
Uninterested/Disinterested
You know what uninterested means. Disinterested means fair or impartial. You want the jury to be disinterested in your case.

*     *     *    *   *
Flout/flaunt
Flout is to disregard a rule.  Flaunt is to display ostentatiously. “He flouted the rule of how much to spend on the engagement ring so his fiancee could flaunt her ring to all her friends.”

*     *     *    *

Alot/allot and their cousins alright and all right
Alot is not a word; it is mistakenly used for a lot.

Allot is to divide or parcel out.

Alright is not a word, even though many people use it. All right is still the correct way to spell it.

* * * * *

Often when I discuss easily confused words, people tell me “but it’s in the dictionary.” True. Many non-standard, incorrect, and scatological words are in the dictionary, which does not mean they are “right” or should be used. The dictionary is not a judge, but a source of explanations and definitions. In the same way, Google is not an encyclopedia, but a popularity reporter. The first listing (after the ads) is not the most correct, it is the one most often clicked on.

Quinn McDonald loves the evolving English language. She teaches business writing, persuasive writing, technical writing, and grammar. She loves that our language expands to accept new words and then regularly abandons them. (Remember floppy disk?)

 

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15 thoughts on “Confusing Words

  1. Thanks Quinn. I never thought about a dictionary just being a list of words and their meanings. You are right of course. I have always thought of a dictionary as an end all book of proper words. I am corrected!

  2. Hanna Andersson needs to be told that she was in an air plane and not an air plain…..correct her blog post.
    Thanks Quinn for caring about the English language.

    • I care deeply about the English language. But as soon as I learn Swedish as well as Hanna knows English, I’ll start correcting her blog. My mom used to insist I send her letters in German or French, the languages I spoke as a child. She would then send them back, corrected in red ink. No, thanks, not my style.

  3. Any comment would result in a rant and I have far too much to do. My rant would probably start with a round and around and move on to some of the ones you don’t have to concern yourself with such as practice and practise but no . . . I will not be drawn into this topic. I will NOT although I shall be making a mental list . . . catching examples in my net as they fly past my ears and eyes. Can you see me snaring them? As opposed to sneering them . . . withering them to dust, never to rise again, with just a glance . . . that’s not such a bad idea as it happens.

    • Sometimes I see nothing else when I read. I have a big snare to go with my hair-trigger crankiness. And I learned about practice and practise when I went to a European English dictionary. I had no idea. We could have a mutual rant and exhaust ourselves.

  4. just like ahold. the spell check produces some really hilarious ‘words’ in our local paper. no one is taught grammar… as Prof. Higgins says, there re even places where English completely disappears… finish the sentence!! (no offence, just a little giggle!!)irregardless

  5. Quinn, enjoyed the write-up. However, I disagree with you on the word “alot”. There is a vast difference between “I have alot of work to do.” and “I own a lot on the corner of Main Street.” The word alot used to be a word….long before someone decided to divide it. Much like using a hyphen. Nowadays people just cram words together and create words that aren’t really words.

    • Yes, of course there is a difference between “a lot of work to do” and “a lot on the corner,” but that’s context. Just like there is a difference between a run in a stocking, a home run, a run on the bank, which are all spelled the same but have different meanings. No one thinks to say I have arun in my stocking–well, no one wears stockings anymore, either. [Grin] And words evolve and devolve, sure enough. But “alot” –to mean many or much of something– is still two words–at least for right now.

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