I like to pretend that I have a decent grasp of English, but have recently found myself surprised -- either by claims of others that my usage is incorrect, or just discovering words whose definitions I didn't (fully) know. If you similarly enjoy grammar nit-picking, you may or may not already to know about common (claims of) misusage of:
See also confusingwords.com. Most information here is taken from from the (very nice) American Heritage College Dictionary (1993), and the on-line Merriam-Webster Dictionary. For Rice U. members, here's the OED. Of course, there are also pages of pages of language references; I like the Atlanta Desk Reference.
1. In a hopeful manner
2. Usage Problem. It is to be hoped.
Usage Note: Writers who use hopefully as a sentence adverb, as in Hopefully, the measures will be adopted, should be aware that the usage is unacceptable to many critics, including a large majority of the Usage Panel. But it is not easy to explain why critics dislike this use of hopefully. It is justified by analogy to the unexceptionable uses of many other adverbs, as in Mercifully the play was brief. The well-attested acceptance of the usage reflects an implicit popular recognition of its usefulness; there is no precise substitute. Someone who says Hopefully, the treaty will be ratified makes a hopeful prediction about the fate of the treaty, whereas someone who says I hope(or We hope or It is hoped) the treaty will be ratified expresses a bald statement about what is desired. Only the latter could be continued with a clause such as but it isn't likely. Some may choose to avoid the usage, whether motivated by discretion or civility.
The on-line Merriam-Webster Dictionary has some further interesting info:
Main Entry: hope·ful·ly
Date: circa 1639
1 : in a hopeful manner
2 : it is hoped : I hope : we hope
usage In the early 1960s the second sense of hopefully, which had been in sporadic use since around 1932, underwent a surge of popular use. A surge of popular criticism followed in reaction, but the criticism took no account of the grammar of adverbs. Hopefully in its second sense is a member of a class of adverbs known as disjuncts. Disjuncts serve as a means by which the author or speaker can comment directly to the reader or hearer usually on the content of the sentence to which they are attached. Many other adverbs (as interestingly, frankly, clearly, luckily, unfortunately) are similarly used; most are so ordinary as to excite no comment or interest whatsoever. The second sense of hopefully is entirely standard.
Inflation affects spending power.
NOT: The affect of inflation is decreased spending power.
The effect of inflation is decreased spending power.
The president promised to effect a reduction in inflation.
The waiter affected a French accent.
[Quotes taken from The American Heritage College Dictionary.]
TODO, ian: make this into a 2x2 tables: noun/verb vs affect/effect. And then a second table with the less common usages.
comprise tr. v.The on-line Merriam-Webster Dictionary:
1. To consist of; be composed of. 2. To include; contain. 3. Usage Problem. To compose; constitute.
Usage Note: The whole comprises the parts; the parts compose the whole. In strict usage: The Union comprises 50 states. Fifty states compose the Union. While comprise is increasingly used in place of compose, in an earlier survey a majority of the Usage Panel found this use of comprise unacceptable. See Usage Note at include.
Main Entry: com·prise
Function: transitive verb
Inflected Form(s): com·prised; com·pris·ing
Etymology: Middle English, from Middle French compris, past participle of comprendre, from Latin comprehendere
Date: 15th century
1 : to include especially within a particular scope <civilization as Lenin used the term would then certainly have comprised the changes that are now associated in our minds with "developed" rather than "developing" states -- Times Literary Supplement>
2 : to be made up of <a vast installation, comprising fifty buildings -- Jane Jacobs>
3 : COMPOSE, CONSTITUTE <a misconception as to what comprises a literary generation -- William Styron> <about 8 percent of our military forces are comprised of women -- Jimmy Carter>
usage Although it has been in use since the late 18th century, sense 3 is still attacked as wrong. Why it has been singled out is not clear, but until comparatively recent times it was found chiefly in scientific or technical writing rather than belles lettres. Our current evidence shows a slight shift in usage: sense 3 is somewhat more frequent in recent literary use than the earlier senses. You should be aware, however, that if you use sense 3 you may be subject to criticism for doing so, and you may want to choose a safer synonym such as compose or make up.
Usage Note: According to a widely repeated tradition, between is used for two and among for more than two. It is true that between is the only choice when exactly two entities are specified: the choice between good and evil. When more than two entities are involved, however, or when the number of entities is unspecified, between is used when they are considered as a mass or collectivity. Thus in the sentence The bomb landed between the houses, the houses are seen as points that define the boundaries of the area of impact. In The bomb landed among the houses, the area of impact is considered to be the general location of the houses, taken together Among is the most appropriate to indicate inclusion in a group: She is among the best of our young scupltors. Between is preferred when the entities are seen as determining the limits or endpoints of a range: The plane went down somewhere between Quito, Lima, and La Paz.
And again, the Merriam-Webster Dictionary:
usage There is a persistent but unfounded notion that between can be used only of two items and that among must be used for more than two. Between has been used of more than two since Old English; it is especially appropriate to denote a one-to-one relationship, regardless of the number of items. It can be used when the number is unspecified <economic cooperation between nations>, when more than two are enumerated <between you and me and the lamppost> <partitioned between Austria, Prussia, and Russia -- Nathaniel Benchley>, and even when only one item is mentioned (but repetition is implied) <pausing between every sentence to rap the floor -- George Eliot>. Among is more appropriate where the emphasis is on distribution rather than individual relationships <discontent among the peasants>. When among is automatically chosen for more than two, English idiom may be strained <a worthy book that nevertheless falls among many stools -- John Simon> <the author alternates among mod slang, clichés and quotes from literary giants -- A. H. Johnston>.
Yet another Am. Heritage Dict. Usage Note:
The use of cohort to refer to an individual rather than a group has gained considerable currency in recent years and seems now to be the predominant usage. Seventy-one percent of the Usage Panel accepts the sentence The cashiered dictator and his cohorts have all written their memoirs, while only 43 percent accepts The gangster walked into the room surrounded by his cohort.
What do the words acme and acne have in common, besides being next to each other in a dictionary? The word acne began its life as acme. As a result of a misreading, it took on a new spelling. There are many more such words in the English language. Buttonhole once was buttonhold. Shamefaced used to be shamefast in the sense of restrained by shame. Cherry was originally cherise, but as that seemed to be plural, people spoke of a cherry when referring to a single fruit. The same happened with pease which was wrongly assumed to be plural and became pea. The list goes on and on.
Next time you see someone misspelling the word "definitely" as "definately" don't snicker. Chances are the new spelling will find a way into the dictionary just as "miniscule" did for the original word "minuscule" because people thought the word had its origin in prefix mini-. It's the usage that determines the flow of language. This week we'll see a few words that are in their current incarnation because someone misread, misprinted, misheard, or misunderstood the term.
I was also surprised at some misspellings I hadn't even known I'd had.
For a refutation of many specific violations of prescriptive grammar, see excerpts from Stephen Pinker's The Language Instince.[an error occurred while processing this directive]