A few weeks ago, I posted Close but no cigar, on English words that are easily confused. Not long after, I was reading a generally fine biography of the Broadway choreographer Bob Fosse that was marred by a number of errors in facts and editing. One was a reference to Fosse’s vocal chords.
The author mean vocal cords — folds of mucous membrane that resemble cords of rope because they’re stretched inside the larynx. It’s an easy mistake, especially since Fosse’s art form — dance — is so closely connected to music. Chords with an H are musical notes sounded together harmonically.
Since then, a number of similar cases have jumped off the pages of student writing. Some are words close in spelling or sound; some are a matter of one word or two; some are idioms.
For example, the trading volume of Google shares was more then 3 million on Sept. 19, 2012, with investors paying $727 per share.
The writer means than. Given that the vowels are pronounced almost identically, it’s an easy mistake — one that Americans often make themselves. But you need to know the difference. Then is the adverb referring to time; than makes a comparison.
Some people would rather go that wellness regiment rather than having treats all the time.
This writer meant regimen — a set of rules followed to achieve a goal, like a diet. A regiment is a military unit of troops.
Your three-year-old’s flocks resemble an angel’s.
This one meant locks — a more fanciful synonym for hair for hair. Flocks are groups of birds or sheep.
“They are not participating in the stock market; their house is not appreciated; they are not growing in terms of their discretionary income,” he said. “With those pressures, that consumer was not just spending any more.”
Two in one graf! First, the writer meant appreciating (gaining in value) rather than appreciated (recognizing the worth of something). The verb appreciate can mean either; here it’s the form that makes the difference. To phrase the sentence differently — which, of course, journalists don’t do in quotes — the speaker could have said, “Their houses have not appreciated.”
The second is a tough call, but I believe any more should have been anymore. One word is the adverb referring to time, meaning any longer. Two words is the adjective referring to amount: Don’t spend any more than you have to.
Charlotte Linn, a tourist from Indiana, said she drinks cranberry juice everyday to prevent infections.
The writer meant every day. Everyday is an adjective meaning ordinary or routine: In my day, young lady, we didn’t wear everyday clothes to church on Sunday. But: A certain New York Times critic used to wear the same tweed jacket every day, summer and winter.
Now, a couple of idioms:
Although the bill hasn’t seen the light yet, the possibility remains for the future.
Here the writer meant seen the light of day. Both phrases are common idioms, but with different meanings: See the light means to understand or be converted to something: David has always been a conservative Republican, but he finally saw the light and voted for Obama. But see the light of day means to surface, to come to notice: That bill will not see the light of day — that is, come up for discussion or vote — this session.
These countries view the U.S. as the safest place to store their savings. But the U.S. is not the safest basket anymore.
This sentence confused me at first because there’s an idiom putting all your eggs in one basket, or being entirely dependent on one thing. The phrasing was a little too close for comfort. When that’s the case, I suggest rewording.
And finally, the funniest typo of that particular day:
Lundgren attributed the disappointing earrings to a decrease in buying power from the “mid-size consumers under stress.”
Of course the writer meant earnings. Never put all your eggs in spellcheck’s basket!
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