Monday, March 01, 2010

Editorial Tip of the Week: Words and Phrases to Avoid (Part I)

Nonsensical phrases and butchered words continue to plague our language, working their way into the pages of even the most meticulous writers. These phrases have become commonplace; they pass as correct in most word processing software. However, we should take up the pen in the interest of clarity. We can make steps toward becoming better authors by striking these words and phrases from our vocabularies. Here are five words and phrases to avoid, with another installment coming next week.

alright. Avoid the single word use of this expression. The Miriam-Webster OnLine Dictionary notes, "The one-word spelling alright appeared some 75 years after all right itself had reappeared from a 400-year-long absence." Although the word continues to be used, writers should stick to the proper two-word phrase.

cohabitate. This word seems to have found its niche in online relationship forums and celebrity gossip magazines. But, our salmon style guide reminds us that cohabitate is “a back-formation of cohabitation.” We already have a perfectly useful verb that has the same meaning as this latecomer: cohabit. Writers would be wise use the traditional verb.

could care less. This phrase is nonsensical in its typical application. Writers should use couldn’t care less when expressing disinterest... unless they are writing dialogue for contemporary characters.

enthused. A back-formation of enthusiasm, this word has a continual presence on blogs and with those seeking a word rhyming with use. Although the word has been present since the early nineteenth-century, Miriam-Webster states, "It has been disapproved since about 1870." Writers enthusiastic about proper grammar should seek a suitable alternative to this avoidable word.

hone in. This phrase has been become prevalent in reporting and may eventually become the correct way to express moving toward a target. Writers should home in on the correct phrase to use in troublesome situation. The word hone means the sharpening of a blade, but the simple slip of a consonant may soon provide the word with another accepted meaning.

[Tune in next week for five more words and phrases to avoid.]

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