Words which might be better used


“Mitigate” for “militate”, usually with “against.” If you actually want to say “mitigate” you have to say something like “alleviate” or “reduce the effect of” instead to be sure of being understood. I think “mitigating circumstances” still works though.

There are loads more, but they aren’t coming to mind.


I think the subjunctive is almost dead in English by now. One of those I only use to avoid annoying people who care.

When word came down from somebody new on high at work, as it regularly did, that split infinitives would not be tolerated, I used to say that when I retired I would start the Society to Actively Promote Use of the Split Infinitive. It can be the least verbose way of saying what you mean. Haven’t got round to it yet.


Well, STAP US. Or at least me.


Are we related, FTC? I can see why you may* want to keep that quiet, mind…

Various barbarian colleagues used to take great delight, after I had beaten them around the head for their usual crimes against thought and language, in pointing out ‘a split infinitive wot Gus missed’. It wasn’t easy explaining to them why sometimes that just doesn’t matter. So I put small curses on them instead (‘may your stapler malfunction’, ‘may the printer forever be out of ink when you are pressed for time’, ‘may your line manager approach me for feedback for your appraisal, you illiterate, obstinate yahoo’ - you know the kind of thing…)

*sheer provocation and badness. I freely admit it.


“Why you may want (something)” is a valid construction; it’s more positive that “Why you might want”. That does of course assume you are probably related…


Yes. In this case 'might" is more open than “may”.

I had a phase when I was doing international work of trying to work out how to (comprehensively) explain modal verbs to an English learner. English modal verbs turned out to be something I can do but cannot generate complete rules for. It distracted me on long journeys though - like Sudoku or crosswords. I expect someone has done it, but looking it up was too much bother.


[quote=“Armitage, post:39, topic:498”]if only it was to be that easy
[/quote]Which is what I put initially … & decided it wasn’t correct.

See !?!?


Here’s a really lost cause: awesome.

To younger generations it’s as “fabulous” was for my generation of course. And I recall that in The Duke’s Children, when his son describes something as “awful”, the Duke of Omnium says something like “I see no occasion for awe.” The original meaning was still current 60 years earlier, peeping through the irony in Persuasion: three daughters are an “awful legacy” for Sir Walter Elliot when his (whoops, edited) wife dies. It gets footnoted now.


Enormity is another one I always notice. It was a useful word that now has to be replaced by a phrase if it’s what you really want to say.

I expect that too will soon appear in the dictionary as “huge size” if it doesn’t already. It makes me wonder whether “enormous” took the same sort of journey, or whether it always just meant “huge”.


Looked up Oxford Dictionaries: it does, with the explanation that current usage is influenced by “enormous”. Which is very right and proper, and thoroughly up-to-date.


And thus another good word vanishes, without a replacement…

Decimate has gone, and one has to say, “destroy ten per cent of” instead.

Perspicacious and perspicuous are now so mixed that it is a mistake to use either; perceptive and lucid still exist, thank the Lord fasting.

“The hoi polloi” and “and etc” are all over the place.

As for “restauranteur” – well, at least the spellcheck here underlines it in red!


I mourn the fact that “partly” seems to have well-nigh vanished. “Partial” is useful to mean either “in part” or “in favour of”; but “partially” instead of “partly” in such phrases as “partly finished” adds nothing to the meaning apart from the vague fear that it might have been finished in a biased manner, and puts in a pointless extra syllable.


This is not a misdefined word, but an overused phrase: whenever a politician says “Let me be clear” I want to ask “Who’s stopping you ?”


I’ve just heard a trail on BBC World Service for “the world’s most unique tennis championship”.


Followed by “very unique” on Front Row.


Unique has lost the battle to be an absolute, I fear.


Themselves, usually


When Wilson said “to be perfectly frank and honest with you” I always listened carefully for the lie that was going to follow.


Will future generations be able to read The City And The Stars without a glossary?


I wonder. They probably won’t bother to read it at all if they would need a glossary because it would be “too difficult”. (And they might prefer Against the Fall of Night, too.)

This morning I heard the sentence

“Transgender coloured women are being killed in the southern states at an extortionate rate.”

I think I probably know what the speaker meant by it, but part of me was glad that probably very few people would be able to afford to have it done.

What word does anyone suppose he was trying to think of?

I think I’ve worked out the reason for which I find the misuse of words so appalling at a sort of gut level: it is because I am increasingly having difficulty remembering the right word, whilst knowing that it exists. That is why I find people using a wrong word with apparent blithe confidence even more annoying than I used to. I fear that I may start to do it too, and nobody will notice, not even me. It’s a sort of hideous vision of unsanity.