Monday, June 01, 2009

Editorial Tip of the Week: Troublesome Expressions, Summer Edition

While blogging or twittering your latest summer adventure, don't let your narration be stymied by a misused word. Here is some vocabulary you may encounter, as defined and differentiated by the Chicago Manual of Style. I’ve customized the examples when inspired.

Edible; eatable. What is edible is fit for human consumption {edible flowers}. What is eatable is at least minimally palatable {the hot dog was slightly burned but still eatable}.

Luxuriant; luxurious. The two terms are fairly often confused. What is luxuriant is lush and grows abundantly {a luxuriant field of wildflowers}. What is luxurious is lavish and extravagant {a luxurious resort}.

Restive; restful. Restive has two senses: “impatient, stubborn” and “restless, agitated.” Restful means “conducive to rest.”

Seasonal; seasonable. Seasonal means either “dependent on a season” {fishing is a seasonal hobby} or “relating to the seasons or a season” {seasonal ales are at a premium in the Pacific Northwest}. Seasonable means “timely” {considering the aphid infestation, the arrival of ladybugs was seasonable} or “fitting the season” {it was unseasonably cold for July}.

Slew; slough; slue. Slew is an informal word equivalent to many or lots {we were swept along in a slew of concert goers}. It is sometimes misspelled slough (a legitimate noun meaning "a grimy swamp") {when hiking, beware the slew} or slue (a legitimate verb meaning "to swing around") {she slued the thirty-pound pack onto her back as if it hardly weighed a thing}.

Attention international travelers: stay healthy and keep an ear out for correct usage. Those prefixes make all the difference!

Epidemic; endemic; pandemic. An epidemic disease breaks out, spreads through a limited area (such as a state), and then subsides {an epidemic outbreak of measles}. (The word is frequently used as a noun {a measles epidemic}. An endemic disease is perennially present within a region or population {malaria is endemic in parts of Africa}. (Note that endemic describes a disease and not a region: it is incorrect to say this region is endemic for [a disease].) A pandemic disease is prevalent over a large area, such as a nation or continent, or the entire world {the 2009 swine flu pandemic}

Visit for alternative explanations and further examples for any of the vocabulary.

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