A Desk-Book of Errors in English/E

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A Desk-Book of Errors in English by Frank Horace Vizetelly
Contents: IntroductionA B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z


each, every: These words should never be used with pronouns or verbs in the plural.

each other: Strictly applied to two only, whereas one another implies more than two. "The two friends congratulated each other" (i. e., each one the other). "This commandment I give unto you that ye love one another:" Yet this expression is now used carelessly as a reciprocal pronoun; and Whittier writes "To worship rightly is to love each other."

effect, affect: Distinguish carefully between these terms. To effect means to accomplish; to affect, to influence. By concerted action men may effect reforms which shall affect their condition.

effluvia: A word often used incorrectly from the mistaken idea that it is of the singular number. Do not say "What a disagreeable effluvia" when you wish to draw attention to an unpleasant smell. If you must use the word, say "effluvium."

egg. Compare bad.

either: An adjective denoting "one or the other of two" often used incorrectly with a plural verb; as, "Either are likely to sail." Now, inasmuch as "either" means "one or the other of two the verb in the sentence should be in the singular and to be correct the sentence should be "Either is likely to sail." However, in its best and strictest usage either, as has already been said, means "one or the other of these," as, "either horn of a dilemma"; but there is authority for its use as "any" and "each of two" or "both." The former of these is, however, a distinctly improper use, and the latter—though sanctioned by "on either side one, and Jesus in the midst," (John xix, 18) is better left unsaid.

either you or I are (am or is) right: Which should it be? You are; I am; who is—which of the two? The complete sentence is clearly "Either you (are right) or I (am right)." If the pronoun had been coupled, as in "Both you and I" the plural verb would of course follow; but the very fact of this would seem to indicate that where they are distinctly disjoined, as here, the verb should not be plural and should therefore be singular. Yet who could say "either you or I am right." Peculiar as it is—it being impossible to say either "you is" or "I is" the solution is to be found in the use of is; and the correct rendering is, "Either you or I—one of us—is right." Dr. Latham cites the rule thus, "Wherever the word either or neither precedes the pronouns, the verb is in the third person." He adds a second rule to the effect that if the disjunctive is without the word either or neither, then the verb agrees with the first of the two pronouns. He would therefore say "either you or I is right," but "you or I are right." It is, however, questionable whether usage bears with him.

elder, eldest; older, oldest: Discriminate carefully between these terms. Elder and eldest are correctly applied only to persons and usually only to persons in the same family, as, "his elder brother." Older and oldest are used of persons or things without any restriction, "the oldest inhabitant"; "the older road is now closed."

elegant: Often misused for pleasant. Elegant refers to qualities of refinement, grace, taste or polish. One may say "an elegant gown"; "an elegant outfit"; but not "an elegant time " nor "an elegant view."

else: E. S. Gould and certain other critics take exception to a possessive use of this word, upon which the former says "A comparatively modern and a superlatively ridiculous custom has been introduced by putting not the noun but the adjective, else, in the possessive case. … Else, in the way it is used, means besides … [one] might as well say somebody besides's, etc. The proper construction of the several phrases is somebody's else, nobody's else."

On this subject the Standard Dictionary says: "The expressions some one else, any one else, every one else, somebody else, which are in good usage, are treated as substantive phrases and have the possessive inflection upon else; as, somebody else's umbrella; but some people prefer to treat them as elliptical expressions; as, the umbrella is somebody's else (i.e., other than the person previously mentioned)."

embryo: The plural of this word is formed by the adding of "s" not "es" as in potatoes.

emerge, immerge: Discriminate carefully between these terms. To emerge is to come out of; issue or proceed from something; to reappear as in a new state; as, "the butterfly emerges from the chrysalis." To immerge is to plunge into anything, especially a fluid; or to disappear; as, "some heavenly bodies immerge in the light of the sun."

emigrant, immigrant: These words are to be carefully distinguished with regard, not to the person but to the country from which or to which a person comes. The e = ex, out of; the im = in, into. The emigrant from Ireland is an immigrant when he lands in New York.

eminent, imminent: Discriminate carefully between these words. Eminent means distinguished, prominent, conspicuous. Imminent means impending; threatening.

endorse, indorse: From the Latin in, on, and dorsum, back, means to write or place upon the back of. It is therefore pleonastic to say, as is frequently done, "indorse on the back of."

The spelling indorse which follows the medieval Latin is that preferred in law and commerce; endorse, a spelling which follows middle English analogy, is the preferred form according to literary usage.

enjoy: A word often misused. Do not say "I enjoy bad health" nor "I enjoy good health," when you suffer from illness or are in a perfect state of health. One enjoys health (here good is superfluous), but how can one enjoy bad health?

enthuse, said to be of journalistic origin, is characterized as slang by the Standard Dictionary, meaning "manifest enthusiasm or delight."

enthusiast, fanatic: Discriminate carefully between these words. An enthusiast is one who is ardently zealous in any pursuit; a fanatic is one whose mind is imbued with excessive or extravagant notions on religious subjects.

epithet: Often misused from the mistaken idea that an epithet must necessarily be opprobrious in character or imply opprobrium. An epithet is an adjective or a phrase or word used adjectively to describe some quality or attribute of its object, as in " a benevolent man," "Father Æneas," "benevolent" and "father" are epithets.

equally as well: An erroneous phrase rendered correctly equally well. The introduced conjunction has no grammatical place in the sentence, the meaning of which is clear without it.

equanimity of mind. A pleonasm since equanimity means "evenness of mind."

'error, don't you make no: An ungrammatical and therefore incorrect phrase sometimes used to assert a fact; say, rather, "make no error."

eruption, irruption: Discriminate carefully between these words. An eruption is a bursting forth as from inclosure or confinement. An irruption is a sudden incursion; an invasion.

eternal, everlasting: Distinguish carefully between these words. That which is eternal is without beginning or end; that which is everlasting is without end only.

euphemism. Compare euphuism.

euphuism is often improperly used for euphemism. Added to the Greek eu, well, is phyē, nature, in the former, and phēmi, speak, in the latter. The former is general and denotes a style, an affectation of speech or writing, whereas euphemism is particular and denotes a figure of speech.

evacuate should be distinguished from vacate. Evacuate does not mean to go away but to make empty; and when the word is used in regard to military movements, evacuation is a mere consequence, result, or at most, concomitant of the going away of the garrison. (R. G. White, Words and Their Uses, ch. 5, p. 109.) To vacate is to surrender possession by removal.

event: Care should be exercised in the use of this word. It means strictly a happening; that which happens or comes to pass as distinguished from a thing that exists. In interlocutory proceedings a defendant was granted costs (which happened to be considerable) in any event. The plaintiff was shrewd enough to drop all further proceedings, and consequently there was no event so the heavy costs which he would have had to pay fell upon his opponent.

eventuate: Although some writers condemn the use of this word as a synonym for "happen" the use is recorded by modern dictionaries and may be considered good English. Originally and in a restricted sense eventuate meant "to culminate in some result"; now, it means also "to be the issue of."

even up: A slang expression much used in the South and West to signify "get even with; exact compensation from": an undesirable phrase.

ever: Where ever is intended to be used as an adverb of degree and not an adverb of time, it is improper to substitute never (not ever) for the word. If the substitution be made, it must be with the understanding that the thought of the sentence is changed from degree to time. "If he run ever so well, he can not win" is not correctly expressed by "If he run never so well," etc., unless the thought intended to be conveyed is "If he run, and run so well, as never in his life before, he can not win." The tendency has been to use both ever so and never so loosely and vaguely.

ever so: The phrases ever so great, little, much, many, etc., meaning "very" or "exceedingly great," etc., may be carefully discriminated from never so great, little, etc., meaning "inconceivably great, little," etc. Compare never so.

every: A collective pronominal singular that is sometimes incorrectly used with a verb in the plural. Do not say "Every passenger of the two hundred aboard were detained at the dock." Say, rather, "Every passenger … was detained."

every confidence: The phrase is objected to by some critics on the ground that "every is distributive, referring to a number of things that may be considered separately, while confidence is used as a mass-noun." The adjective, therefore, as signifying all or entire, is not permitted, though the phrase is accepted by many as being elliptical, the words "sort of" being understood after every; but implicit confidence is a preferable phrase.

every which way: A pleonastic colloquialism for "every way"; "in all directions"; either of which phrases may be used in preference.

evidence, testimony: These words are often used as if they were interchangeable. Greenleaf says "Testimony, from the Latin, testis, a witness, is, however, only a species of evidence through the medium of witnesses. The word evidence, in legal acceptation, includes all the means by which any alleged matter of fact, the truth of which is submitted to investigation, is established or disproved." (Evidence, vol. i. ch. 1, p. 3.) Again "Evidence rests upon our faith in human testimony, as sanctioned by experience" (vol. i. ch. 10, p. 70). We may have the testimony of a traveler that a fugitive passed his way; but his footprints in the sand are evidence of the fact.

evident. Compare apparent.

exasperate. Compare aggravate.

executer, executor: Discriminate carefully between these words. An executer is one who performs some act; a doer. An executor is one who in law administers an estate.

exceed, excel: Formerly exceed (from the Latin ex, forth, + cedo, go, = to go beyond the mark) had for one of its meanings excel ( from the Latin ex, out, + celsus, raised, = to go beyond in something good or praiseworthy; outdo). Now these words must be distinguished. This is to be particularly noted in the derivatives excessive and excellent—the former signifying an excess in that which ought not to be exceeded, the latter in that where it is praiseworthy to exceed. It is, therefore, not correct to speak of weather as being excessively cold; say rather, very or exceedingly cold.

except, unless: These words are not synonymous. Avoid such locutions as "You will not enjoy it except you earn it." Say rather, "You will not enjoy it unless you earn it."

exceptionable is to be distinguished from exceptional. Exceptionable conduct is that which is out of the common and forms the exception to the rule.

excise, customs, tolls: Distinguish from each other. Mill in his "Political Economy" says:

"Taxes on commodities are either on production within the country, or on importation into it, or on conveyance or sale within it, and are classed respectively as excise, customs, or tolls and transit duties." (bk. v. ch. 3, p. 562.)

Thus, excise is a charge on commodities of domestic production; customs is a charge or duty assessed by law levied on goods imported or exported; tolls are charges for special privileges as, passing over a bridge or a turnpike.

excite, incite: Exercise care in the use of these words. Excite means to produce agitation or great stir of feeling in; incite is to rouse to a particular action.

exemplary should not be used for "excellent." That which is exemplary serves as a model or an example worthy of imitation: that which is excellent possesses distinctive merit or excels that which is good or praiseworthy.

exodus: Sometimes misused for exit or departure. Do not say "I made a hasty exodus"; say, rather, "My exit (or departure) was hasty."

expect is commonly misused for think, believe, suppose; also for suspect. Expect refers to the future, not to the past or present, usually with the implication of interest or desire. Yet "I expect it is," or even "I expect it was," is very common.

expect likely, expect probably. The Standard Dictionary says of these careless locutions, it is not the expectancy, but the future event, that is likely or probable. One may say "I think it is likely," "I think it [the act, event, or the like] probable," or "It seems likely" or "probable." When another person's expectancy is matter of conjecture, one may say "You probably expect to live many years"; i. e., "I think it probable that you expect," etc.; but "Probably you expect," etc., would be better.