A Desk-Book of Errors in English/H

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A Desk-Book of Errors in English by Frank Horace Vizetelly
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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

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habit, custom, usage: Discriminate carefully between these words. In strict usage habit pertains exclusively to the individual; custom to a race or nation of people, as, the customs of the Jews. Usage refers particularly to habitual practise or something permitted by it or done in accordance with it.

had better, would better: Although according to grammatical rule had better is incorrect, it has been used by writers of correct English and it may be found repeatedly in the English Classics. Therefore, it is generally considered good usage and preferable to would better which, though correct, is seldom heard and usually considered pedantic.

had, have: In such a phrase as "Had I have heard of it," the verb have is redundant, for had here is used elliptically for if I had, and carries the contingency to the past. Care should be taken to avoid such locutions as the example given which is one of a class that stamps those who make use of them as grossly ignorant.

had ought: The use of any part of the verb have with ought is a vulgarism. Not "I had ought to have written," but simply "I ought to have written"; not "He hadn't ought to have done it," but "He ought not to have done it."

had rather, had better: Forms disputed by certain critics, from the days of Samuel Johnson, the critics insisting upon the substitution of would or should, as the case may demand, for had; but had rather and had better are thoroughly established English idioms having the almost universal popular and literary sanction of centuries. "I would rather not go" is undoubtedly correct when the purpose is to emphasize the element of choice or will in the matter; but in all ordinary cases "I had rather not go" has the merit of being idiomatic and easily and universally understood.

I had rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than to dwell in the tents of wickedness. Ps. lxxxiv. 10.

If for "You had better stay at home," we substitute "You should better stay at home," an entirely different meaning is expressed, the idea of expediency giving place to that of obligation.—Standard Dictionary.

"Would rather may always be substituted for had rather. Might rather would not have the same meaning. Would and should do not go well with better. In one instance can is admissible. 'I can better afford,' because can is especially associated with afford. We may say might better, but it has neither the sanction, the idiomatic force, nor the precise meaning of had better."—Samuel Ramsey, Eng. Lang, and Gram. pt. ii. ch. 6, p. 413.

hail, hale: Hail is pronounced as hale (robust; sound) but should be distinguished therefrom, although for that word there is an alternative spelling hail, which, however, is rarely used. Hale is from Icelandish heill, sound; hail is from the Anglo-Saxon, haegel, frozen rain.

hain't: A common vulgarism for have not, haven't, and made worse, if possible, by being used also for has not or hasn't; as "I hain't," "He hain't," etc. "I haven't" "He hasn't," are permissible, "haven't I?" "hasn't he? "are acceptable in conversation. But when the subject precedes in the first person singular and the plural, it is preferable to abbreviate the verb; as, "I've not," "you've not," etc.

half: Inasmuch as in equivalent terms of the whole there can not be a single half, but must be two halves, one should speak of dividing (the whole) into two or into halves rather than of cutting (it) in half.

half-cock, to go off at: A colloquial phrase denoting "to speak before one is ready"; not used by persons accustomed to refined diction.

handful: This word has for a plural handfuls. "Two handfuls of flour" means a handful taken twice, whereas hands full means both hands full. This last term is often erroneously written handsful.

handy: Properly said of articles on which one may lay the hand, or possibly of persons, as attendants, ready at hand for service. Applied to neighborhood, "near," "near by," "close at hand," or the like are to be preferred.

hang: This verb has for its perfect tense and past participle two forms, hanged and hung; but in the sense of execution (sus per col), the former term is alone correctly used, whereas in other senses the latter is applied. Thus, one may say, "A hat is hung on a peg, but a murderer is hanged on the gallows," and not that the hat is hanged nor that the murderer is hung.

hanger on: A colloquialism for "a dependent or parasite:" the term is inelegant and therefore undesirable.

hangs on: As a substitute for "remains," the expression finds no favor.

happen. Compare transpire.

happen in, to: A colloquialism often met in rural districts and used for "to make a chance social call," or "to drop in casually" as one passes by.

happiness. Compare pleasure.

hard case: An American colloquialism for a person of pronounced or curious type.

hardly. Compare scarcely.

hardy. Compare rugged.

hasten, hurry: Although both words imply a celerity of action, the former presupposes consideration and is not opposed to good order, whereas the latter is indicative of perturbation and a measure of irregularity. Therefore these terms are not synonymous. Phelps in his "English Style in Public Discourse," says "the first does not imply confusion; the second does." Lexicographers do not restrict the meaning of hurry to "to confuse by undue haste or suddenness," but define it as "to cause to be done rapidly or more rapidly; accelerate." You hasten to congratulate but hurry to catch a train.

have: On the use of this word the Standard Dictionary says: Used in the past tense following another past tense, a use often indiscriminately condemned, though sometimes proper and necessary.

(1) Improper construction. Where what was "meant," "intended," or the like was, at the time when intended, some act (as of going, writing, or speaking) future in its purpose and not past, and therefore not to be expressed by a past tense; as, "He meant to have gone" for "He meant to go"; "I meant to have written to you, but forgot it," for "I meant to write," etc.; "I had intended to have spoken to him about it," for "I had intended to speak," etc.; "I should like to have gone," for "I should have liked to go." The infinitive with to expresses the relation of an act as so conceived, so that both analogy and prevalent usage require "meant to go" instead of "meant to have gone." Such construction, although occasional instances of it still occur in works of authors of the highest literary reputation, and still often heard in conversation, is now generally regarded as ungrammatical.

(2) Proper construction. The doubling of the past tenses in connection with the use of have with a past participle is proper and necessary when the completion of the future act was intended before the occurrence of something else mentioned or thought of. Attention to this qualification, which has been overlooked in the criticism of tense-formation and connection, is especially important and imperative. If one says, "I meant to have visited Paris and to have returned to London before my father arrived from America," the past infinitive in the dependent clause is necessary for the expression of the completion of the acts purposed. "I meant to visit Paris and to return to London before my father arrived from America," may convey suggestively the thought intended, but does not express it.

have seen, seen, saw: In combining words that denote time always observe the order and fitness of time. Do not say "I have seen him last month; say, rather, "I saw him last month." Nor say, "I seen him this week"—a common error in grammar among the careless; say, rather, "I have seen him this week," a form that should be used also, instead of "I saw him this week."

he, she, her, him, etc.: Pronouns often used incorrectly; inexcusable errors in the educated, which are illustrated by such expressions as "If I were him (or her), I would," etc. It should be "If I were he (or she), I would," etc.

healthful, healthy: Discriminate carefully between these words. A healthful thing is one efficacious in promoting or causing health; healthy denotes condition or characteristics; as "a healthy child"; "a healthful climate."

heap: A word sometimes used to designate a "large number." A heap is "a collection of things piled up so as to form an elevation"; any other application of the word is colloquial.

hearty: As applied to the appetite is so common at this day that it seems perhaps hypercritical to object to it; and the dictionaries of course give the sense, for it is the lexicographer's duty to record the language as it exists not as it ought to exist. That is hearty which proceeds from the heart; to extend the sentiment to the appetite, or to a meal, or to its eater, as is done by common usage, seems taking a liberty with the word, and applying a fine and expressive term to a comparatively unworthy object.

heir: Pronounce without aspirating the h. Distinguish between heir apparent and heir presumptive. The former is "one who must by course of law become the heir if he survive his ancestor"; the latter, "one whose present legal expectation of becoming heir may be defeated by the birth of a person in near degree of relationship." Thus, a man may to-day be heir persumptive to his bachelor brother who by marriage may in a year's time become the father of a son, who will then become heir apparent; and by this circumstance the claims of the former heir presumptive are quashed.

The Standard Dictionary says: "Heir is often colloquially applied to one who receives or is to receive a property by will. In legal terminology such a person is a devisee or legatee, not an heir." As an heir does not exist till death either by will or operation of law, it is only by impropriety of speech that one talks of the heirs of the living.

help has the meaning of "assist"; it has also the somewhat opposed meaning of "prevent, hinder, or refrain from." This veiled negative makes the correct application of the word difficult. Take, for example, the sentence "Make no more noise than you can help." I can not help doing a thing is I can not refrain from doing it: that is, I can not not do it, which means I must do it. The correct form of the sentence just given is shown by filling in the ellipsis, whence it appears that not should also be supplied: "Make no more noise than (such as) you can (not) help (making)." Help includes aid, but aid may fall short of the meaning of help.

hence, thence, whence: As in meaning these words embrace from it is pleonastic to precede them by the word thus implied. Do not say, "go from hence," "from thence he went to Rome," "from whence did you come." From is redundant in all these sentences.

hen-party: A vulgar term for a social gathering of ladies. Compare stag-party.

herd: A term sometimes applied indiscriminately to persons as well as beasts. Herd is correctly used to designate, "a number of animals feeding or herding together;" when applied to persons the true designation is "a disorderly rabble," or "the lower classes," as the vulger herd.

him and me: It is a vulgar error to use the objective for the nominative. One should not say, "Him and me are going to Bermuda," say, rather, "He and I (or preferably 'we') are going to Bermuda." Do not say, "Between you and I," but say, "Between you and me," or "Between us."

hire. Compare lease.

holocaust: A term sometimes misused owing to a lexicographical error which attributes to the word the meaning of "any great disaster." According to this the Johnstown Flood, the Galveston storm, and the fire in the Paris bazaar all were holocausts, but this is erroneous. Holocaust is derived from the Greek holos, entire, whole, and kaustos, burnt, and its principal meaning is "a sacrificial offering burnt whole or entirely consumed." Figuratively, the term may be applied to destruction by fire, as the burning of the steamer "General Slocum" in the East River, New York, or the great fire in Baltimore, but not to loss as by shipwreck or collision unless attended by fire.

holy: The word means not only "morally excellent" but also "set apart for the service of God"; and therefore the criticism that "to keep holy the Sabbath day" is a meaningless injunction as every day should be kept holy, is without merit. The word is derived from the Anglo Saxon and means "whole"; and the divine direction as to the Sabbath is, therefore, simply that the day be observed in its integrity.

holy mackerel: An inane expression commonly used to denote surprise and one to be avoided by all persons with pretentions to refined diction.

hoodoo: A colloquialism designating any person regarded as bringing ill luck, as a "Jonah," on shipboard, in allusion to the Bible story of the prophet Jonah.

horde: This word means "a gathered multitude of human beings; a troop, gang, or crew; as the hordes of Cambyses." It is never correctly applied to things. Do not speak of a horde of rubbish.

horse sense: A colloquial phrase designating "rough common sense "used by W. D. Howells in "Hazard of New Fortunes," vol. i. p. 4.

how? should never be used for "What did you say? "Nor in making a request for the repetition of any statement not heard clearly or not readily understood. Condemned by Oliver Wendell Holmes in "A Rhymed Lesson," st. 43.

"Do put your accents in the proper spot;
Don't—let me beg you—don't say "How?" for "What?"

how is an adverb, but it is sometimes most inelegantly used as an interjection and very improperly used as a conjunction, which it is not. On this subject the Standard Dictionary says, ''How, as an adverb, may be used as an interrogative or a relative in any of its senses. In old or vulgar usage it is sometimes nearly equivalent to the conjunction that: either (1) alone, as, he told me how he had been left an orphan; or (2) in the phrases had that and as how; as, he told how that he saw it all; he told me as how I angered him."

however: As an adverb however has proper and elegant use as, "However wise one may be, there are limits to one's knowledge." But its use for how and ever as, "However could he do it?" should be avoided as a vulgarism; while its employment in the sense of "at any rate; at all," as in the example, "He tried to keep me, but I'm going, however," is provincial and archaic.

As a conjunction it should not be used indiscriminately, as it often is used, for but or notwithstanding. Not "He was sick; not, however, so seriously as he thought," but "He was sick, but not so seriously," etc.; since the relation is sharply adversitive. "And Moses said. Let no man leave of it till the morning. Notwithstanding (not but) they harkened not unto Moses"; since the preceding thought is represented as no impediment to the succeeding one. "I have not seen her since our quarrel; however (not but, or notwithstanding), I expect to be recalled every hour"; since the relation is one of concession and simple transition, however denoting that "in whatever manner or degree what precedes is valid, what follows nevertheless stands firm."—Standard Dictionary.

hung should never be used for hanged. Beef is hung; a murderer is hanged. Compare hang.

hunk, to get: A vulgar phrase for "to get even" or "to retaliate upon."

hunky or hunky-dory: Slang terms that should not be used for "all right"; "safe"; or "done satisfactorily."

hurry. Compare hasten.