Writer Quirks - Jenny Milchman
Writer Quirks - Chris Brogan

Commonly Confused Words Part 2

Hello fearless writers! It’s time for another episode of Commonly Confused Words. Believe it or not, I come up with each episode’s words based on reading incorrect usage on the web or in print. Especially egregious when the fallacious swap out occurs in print, in my opinion, but it happens.

Without further ado, let’s dive into nine sets of words that are commonly confused:

Chord vs. Cord

The most common misuse of this set occurs with the phrase “struck a chord”, when the correct “chord” is swapped out for the incorrect “cord”.

Chord: Two or more musical notes struck or sung together producing a pleasing harmony. Thus, when something “strikes a chord”, it resonates.

Since my kitty just died, the author’s memoir on pet loss struck a deep chord.

Cord: A thick string, thin rope or cable.

If I set the lamp on this table, the electrical cord won’t reach the outlet.

College vs. Collage

Unless you’re pursuing higher education in scrapbooking or found art, you’re not going to collage (pronounced cole-LAHJ)…you’re going to college (COL-lehj).

College: Institute for higher learning.

After High School, Jen is going to college.

Collage: Sticking a hodgepodge of photos, paper, found art and other items together to form a picture.

I’m collecting old newspapers and vintage photos to make a collage piece.

Moot vs. Mute

Unless your plea is falling upon deaf ears, your point is moot—not mute.

Moot: Doubtful, debatable, unresolved or unlikely.

Arguing whether reptilian creatures are guised as political leaders seems a moot point in reasonable debate.

Mute: Unwilling or unable to make a sound or speak.

Helen Keller was born both blind and mute.

Roll vs. Role

If you’re listing your favorite sites on your blog, it’s a Blog Roll—not a Blog Role. Unless, of course, your favorite sites are vying for some kind of acting award…

Roll: An official list (in this case)

Excellent grades secured her place on the Honor Roll.

Role: A specific function or acting part.

It’s probably easy for Meryl Streep to get choice movie roles.

Alley vs. Ally

If you’re walking down a dark alley (owl-LEE), you had better hope you run into an ally (owl-LYE). But don’t walk through an ally, lest you lose the friendship.

Alley: A narrow passageway.

Don took a shortcut down the alley on his way home.

Ally: A mutually supportive person or group.

In WWII, EnglandFrance and America were allies against Germany.

Perk vs. Perq

I’ve seen this confusion a lot. In fact, I’ve seen it in a both book about writing and a novel! In short, I’ve seen this confusion from writers who should know better. Writers don’t get “perks” unless they’re females walking out into frigid temperatures or males running into bodacious babes.

Perk: To stick up or become lively. Or, short for percolate (to drip or filter).

When she heard the name of her favorite band mentioned, her ears perked up.

Perq: Short for perquisite. A bonus, extra, freebie or advantage.

One of the perqs of being a baker is sampling raw cookie dough.

Two vs. To vs. Too

Most people use “two” correctly. It’s to vs. too that gets confused the most. To remember which is which, consider the extra “o” in too as a hint to the word’s meaning: “in addition to”.

Two: The number 2

Joe thought he danced as if he had two left feet.

To: A preposition indicating direction, destination or position.

Mary needed to walk to the market to get some milk.

Too: As well. Extremely.

Tina, if you’d like, Katy can come, too.

You’re vs. Your

This is a sneaky pair. More than once, I’ve caught myself typing the wrong word, especially posting on Facebook when I’m in a hurry—even though I know better. So keep an eye out for this easy-to-do switcheroo! If you’re not sure which is correct, see if you can substitute “you are” for the word. If you can, and it still makes sense, you’re is the correct word. If not, use your. NB: Do not trust MS Word grammar check to catch mistakes when it comes to “you’re” vs. “your”! There have been times when Word suggested the wrong word for this pair.

You’re: Contraction of “you” and “are”.

You’re such a kidder, Jack!

Your: Belonging or relating to someone.

Don’t forget your coat, Linda!

Pseudo Name vs. Pseudonym

OK, this is a crazy one…but I saw it on a blog recently and thought I’d set the record straight. Since “pseudo” means false or fake, calling a pseudonym and Pseudo Name is, I guess, technically correct (even if it’s not really a word). But if the blogger meant to use the word pseudonym, another word for nom de plume or penname, then it’s a faux pas.

Pseudonym comes from the Greek pseudōnumon ("false name") and the French pseudonyme.

Alrighty, kiddos, I hope you enjoyed Commonly Confused Words Part 2. If you have any questions about proper usage or notice some confused words in the wild, by all means take a moment to comment here or email me at synerjay (at) atlanticcbb (dot) net.

-- Janet

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