Usage Mistakes #1

The sentences below illustrate various types of mistakes in wording born from (not “borne out of”) ignorance or carelessness.

1. All the progress we have made to educate people about the hazards of smoking may be for not.

The writer, perhaps unfamiliar with the termnaught, assumed that the last word of the sentence is intended to denote negation rather than futility: “All the progress we have made to educate people about the hazards of smoking may be for naught.”

2. President Obama traveled to Cuba for a historical visit.

A historical visit is one that occurs in history, though one should not refer to a visit this way;historical is superfluous. The writer meant to state that the visit is historic; that word means “of significance to history” (though it sometimes refers simply to something established or existing from the past): “President Obama traveled to Cuba for a historic visit.”

(But shouldn’t it be “an historic visit”? No, because the correct pronunciation of historic is to sound the h, though many people, including me, believe it is easier to use an and treat the first letter of the following word as silent.)

3. His speech was a load of dribble.

Some people seem to think that references such as the one here are to someone’s writing or utterance being worth no more than drool, but the correct word for foolish or silly talk (which can refer to slavering but is etymologically unrelated) is drivel: “His speech was a load of drivel.”

4. The list is virtually a whose-who of prominent community members.

The pronoun whose has no place in this sentence. The phrase “who’s who” (the contraction is of “who is”) refers to a roster of notable people or things or summaries about them, or to such a group collectively: “The list is virtually a who’s who of prominent community members.” This usage—without a connecting hyphen—stems from publications with titles modeled on the phrase, such as Who’s Who in American Art.

5. Where does the US Jewish population predominately live?

Predominate is a verb; the correct adjectival and adverbial forms are predominant andpredominantly: “Where does the US Jewish population predominantly live?”



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