Tuesday, March 19, 2013

What's Common Isn't Always Good

Hello again, lovies! Having paid exorbitant fees for produce this weekend, I’ve been inspired to try comparing apples to oranges. Figuratively speaking, that is.

I once had the ghastly misfortune to work with a newspaper editor who insisted on mixing up words like affect and effect, or whoever and whomever in various stories. He claimed that it was perfectly fine, because “people talk like that.” I speculated (silently) that he was descended from cave slugs.

Common usage doesn’t always mean proper usage. Leggings and crinolines might be all the rage in 8o’s music videos, but don’t even think about sporting such attire at a formal gathering. The CMOS offers a lengthy list of words and phrases that can send even the most prolific writers thumbing through a dictionary. Shall we try a little quiz? Like a bad hat, take the answers straight from the top of your head.

  1. Given a choice between abjure and adjure, which word would you choose to denote renunciation under oath?
  2. Between all right and alright, which does the CMOS consider all wrong?
  3. Clinch or clench? One is physical; the other is generally used figuratively.
  4. Can something be edible without being eatable?
  5. Both innate and inherent can describe characteristics, but which word is best used to describe traits of living things?

Oo, I’m excited; I’m sure you all did smashingly well. Ready?

If you chose abjure as the answer to question one, give yourself a quick knuckle-buff. To abjure is to renounce or deny under oath, while to adjure is to require or urge a particular action.

In the case of question two, the CMOS suggests avoiding the use of alright. All righty, then.

Clinch your victory by answering all five questions correctly, and you can shake your clenched fists in the air.

If you’re confused by the difference between edible and eatable, I’ll give you some help. My father believes that mushrooms are edible, but he finds them thoroughly uneatable. The former means that something is fit for human consumption, while the latter indicates that the eater might actually enjoy the food in question.

Question five has a built-in clue. The “nate” portion of innate tells us that innate characteristics are those we’re born with, while inherent is more likely to be used for inanimate objects. Her innate loveliness shone through the inherent gaudiness of her dress.

And there you are; a quick peek at some of the literary trouble spots. There are scads more, so be sure to study. Until next time, dearies. Your Style Maven needs a nap. While it may be practicable to attempt city driving while bleary-eyed, it’s hardly practical. Have a lovely week, and remember, a well-turned phrase is always in style!

Photo courtesy of Darrick Bartholomew 
After months of filling out reams of paperwork, the Style Maven is in hiding in a large metropolitan area. Following a well-deserved mental health break, she plans to update her signature blurb and Procraftinator column, both of which are in desperate need of rejuvenation.


  1. What fun. I had them all except the easiest one. What does that say for me? And I hope we get to see your pretty face next time.

  2. Thanks for the enlightenment. I ran a post on my blog recently about common "mistakes" I've been seeing in books, focused on homophones. I remember my dad saying, "What's the difference between unlawful and illegal?"

    Being my dad, of course the answer was "Unlawful is against the law. Illegal is a sick bird."

    Terry's Place

  3. Thanks, Style Maven! I write about alright/all right in so many evaluations it's one of my cut-and-paste lectures. I didn't know abjure/adjure, but then again, getting on a jury can be a real problem in a low-crime area. I'll have to ask my husband if he knows—he's the Law & Order buff who reads crime fiction.

  4. The Style Maven needs to travel around to local newspapers, media outlets, and public forums to smack hands with rulers. Our lovely, complicated, illogical language is being horribly mangled. I shall be sharing your wisdom liberally.

  5. Thank you Style Maven for the quiz and lesson. It was fun to take the quiz and just as much fun to find out which ones I got right and which one I goofed on. (On another note, I love your picture!)

  6. That editor wasn't named Hudson, by any chance?

    Oh, and the choice between abjure and adjure ... I would have taken the fifth.

    Side bar: I changed my blog's URL to http://soc-awkward.blogspot.com/ and my page views went from 6 per week to 0 ... good thing the blog still amuses me.

  7. Why am I thinking about Mary Poppins? Ah, yes, "a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down." In the same vein, a delightful dose of humor helps us commit these vital rules to memory -- or at least recall that we need to look them up the next time we are trying to decide which word is correct.

    Great post, Style Maven. Love it!

  8. Hahaha. Style Maven, you are funny irregardless. And that one *really* grates on my nerves! Some of the errors in newspaper headlines just make me cringe. Did your editor have a special fondness for !!!! too? I refuse to buy a subscription to my local rag because of the sophomoric punctuation.

  9. Thank you, thank you. I have always struggled with alright, all right. Now I know the answer!

  10. Great post! I too cringe at newspaper headlines. And my pet peeve of accepted "common" usage is "snuck." Ugh--shudder!

  11. I just got the finger waggle last week on the all right/alright example. I read several posts about it and everyone recommends staying away from 'alright.' (Loved Kathryn's cut-and-paste comment!) I would like to suggest that language is dynamic and that it may be all right to use the phrase 'alright' in cultural references or pop culture-relevant work. Bob Marley said, "Everything's gonna be alright," not "Everything is going to be all right."

    However, having said this, I will fight to the death over the retention of adverbs. I refuse to do "good" even when my mother says so.


The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. If a glitch is preventing you from commenting, visit our Facebook page and drop your wise words there: Blood-Red Pencil on Facebook