Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Yes, another list of misused words

Cute dog.
If you ask Google for "incorrectly used words," you'll get nearly 73 million listings. That'a a lot of misused words, and a lot of people making up lists of incorrectly used words.

This says two things. One, given all this misuse it's a miracle we can understand each other. Two, a lot of people have time on their hands.

Then there is the very lowest life form, which comes along and steals someone else's list. That would be me.

With apologies to Jeff Haden at Inc., here are some troubling words. Explain to your dog that precision matters. It doesn't matter that other people are lazy. You can set yourself apart by using words correctly.
Anticipate: "We anticipate earnings will increase by $1 per share." No, you don't. To anticipate means to look ahead and prepare. So you can anticipate increased sales, but only if you are also making preparations to handle that increase in sales; for example, "We added staffing in anticipation of increased sales." If you're estimating or wishful guessing, use estimate or expect instead. 

Can: Can is used to indicate what is possible. May is used to indicate what is permissible. I can offer kickbacks to certain vendors, but unless I'm ethically challenged, I may not. Telling your staff members, "You cannot offer refunds without authorization," sounds great but is incorrect. They certainly can, even though they shouldn't.

Invariably: This word gets tossed in to indicate frequency: "Invariably, Johnny misses deadlines," is correct only if Johnny always, always, always misses deadlines, because invariably means "in every case or occasion." Unless Johnny messes up each and every time, without fail, use frequently, or usually, or even almost always. And then think about his long-term employment status.

Irregardless: Here's a word that appears in many dictionaries simply because it's used so often. Irregardless is used to mean without regard to or without respect to ... which is what regardless means. In theory, the ir part, which typically means not, joined up with regardless, which means "without regard to," makes irregardless mean "not without regard to," or more simply, "with regard to." Which is clearly not what you mean. So save yourself one syllable or two keystrokes and just say regardless.

Literally: Literally is frequently used (all too often by teenagers I know) to add emphasis. The problem is, literally means "actually, without exaggeration," so, "That customer was literally foaming at the mouth," cannot be true without the involvement of rabies. The only time using literally makes sense is when you need to indicate what is normally a figurative expression is, this time, truly the case. Saying, "He literally died when he saw the invoice," works only if the customer did, in fact, pass away moments after seeing the bill.

Would: First two definitions. Would indicates the outcome of an imagined or theoretical event. Will indicates the future tense of something that is inevitable - in other words, something that is going to happen. Think of would as conditional and will as a promise. And that's why they almost never belong in the same sentence. "The project would be phased in over the next several months and will cost $3 million," mixes the theoretical with the factual. If it happens, it would cost $3 million. Here's the easy fix: don't mix would and will. Decide whether you're stating what is going to happen or what may happen. Then use would both times, or will both times. Then you're always safe.
If you would study these words you will anticipate that you may literally surpass that idiot Harvey in accounts receivable irregardless of the fact that his uncle is the CEO.

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