In my job, I’ve seen a lot of word misuse by writers, both professional and not, though it’s more annoying (often exasperatingly so) to an editor when the misuse is from someone who went to school for this. I mean, really, did they not pay attention in the lessons on affect/effect and other commonly confused words? Do they seriously think that “verses” and “versus” are the same? (I’m not kidding here. I’ve never seen “versus” from a particular writer. If you’re ever in downtown Little Rock and you hear a rumble, that’s probably me growling as I try to edit him.)
Ahem. Rant on pro writers over (for the moment). In some instances, the confusion comes about because of homophones—like verses (parts of a song) and versus (against). In others, it’s a somewhat similar word that looks and sounds close to what the actual word should be, but isn’t a homophone. (And yes, in a few it’s someone profoundly ignorant using big words to try to make himself sound smart. Hint: It’s not working.)
One I’ve seen an awful lot lately is “flaunt” (to show off) used in place of “flout” (to defy, usually scornfully). Someone who flaunts the law is, I guess, rather proud of it (it’s just the smartest thing and takes after its dad … so constitutional!). Someone who flouts the law, on the other hand, believes laws don’t apply to him (gosh … no one … absolutely no one … comes to mind … 😏). Most of those flouters eventually find out that’s wrong, but sometimes it takes a while. A very long while, in some cases.
Then we have those people—perhaps those who go unpunished for a long time—who flaunt their flouting, not to be confused with a flautist (that’d be a flute player, or flutist in American English; I prefer flautist, though). Those are the cads that cause people who believe in law and order to sputter. The cads’ supporters sputter even more when law and order are brought up.
A lot of people get those mixed up, as well as others, and in most cases, spellcheck won’t help (it’s laughing at you while it’s over in the corner playing Fortnite … and laughing at me because I’ve never played it).
Flaunt and flout are two of the oft-confused words Grammarly wrote about in a recent blog entry, and there are other pairs I see a lot of in my job: disinterested/uninterested, empathy/sympathy, imply/infer, and it’s/its.
Disinterested is often seen in relation to the judiciary for a good reason: It means impartial, which is what judges are supposed to be (the law, not partisanship, should guide decisions … something some people in D.C. need to understand). Uninterested, though, means bored or not wanting to be involved, which is not something you should want in a judge. Or a romantic partner.
Empathy and sympathy are similar, but while sympathy means feeling sorrow or compassion for what someone else is going through, empathy means putting yourself in that person’s shoes and understanding what they feel though not necessarily sharing in that feeling. I’m frankly concerned about those who feel sympathy for those who support those law-flouters; being an apologist for a chronic lawbreaker isn’t a good look.
The way I was always taught the difference between imply and infer is that a speaker implies, while a listener infers. Someone may hint at something but not say it directly (imply): “In her statement, Pelosi implied that we had now reached that threshold, saying the president ‘must be held accountable—no one is above the law.’” (Northjersey.com editorial board, Sept. 24)
Someone else might make an educated (we hope) guess about what that something, or another something, is (infer): “Just because House Democrats want to infer that missing evidence is bad for Trump doesn’t mean the public opinion will go along with it.” (Todd Ruger, Roll Call, Oct. 3)
Confused yet? Join the club. This is one of those pairings that will continue to be misused and abused no matter how much word nerds like me fret about it, much like lead and led, and principal and principle.
But its and it’s may be misused even more … and another form has joined the club (fairly recently, it appears): its’. I’ll say this at the outset: If you use its’, you have angered the grammar gods, who will punish you with lectures on, among other things, the reasons you shouldn’t use talk-to-text when making Internet comments, or send something without reading it.
OK, really, everyone needs to know that (seriously, don’t do either of those things), but its’ is always wrong.
Back to it’s and its: It’s is a contraction of “it is” or “it has.” Its is possessive, meaning belonging to it, and is just like other pronoun possessives like hers, ours and theirs in that no apostrophe is needed because the spelling indicates a possessive. If you replace the its in a sentence with “it is” or “it has” and it doesn’t make sense, you made the right choice in using its. Of course, if it sounds like the nonsensical ravings of a lunatic mind, making sense isn’t quite the right benchmark.
You’re not related to me, are you?
Don’t forget: I want to hear from you. Let me know by Monday what you’re thankful for this Thanksgiving, and I may use your comments in my column next week. Alternatively, if you’re an Arkansas resident and haven’t been published in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in the 30 days before Nov. 28, you can send a letter by 10 a.m. Tuesday for inclusion on our Thanksgiving Day Voices page, either by mailing it to P.O. Box 2221, Little Rock, 72203, emailing to firstname.lastname@example.org, or going to our form here.
I also want to know what words you love or loathe, and why. Gaggles of word nerds are getting ready to release their words of the year, as well as those they hope to never see again. (Full disclosure: I submitted its’ to Lake Superior State University for banishment; fingers crossed.) Is there a word or phrase that a former co-worker always misused, like “in lieu of”? Do you think of your granny every time you hear, “Well, I’m fat as a tick!” (which you’ll probably hear a lot next week)? Tell me at email@example.com or in the comments below this here blog—you know how I love chatting with fellow word nerds.
It’s pretty much the only time you can’t get me to shut up. Otherwise, I’ll be over in the corner with spellcheck, but I’ll be playing Ravenhill or Angry Birds 2 on my iPad.