A Desk-Book of Errors in English/M

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

mad: Used for "angry" by the careless or the indifferent. A colloquialism not in vogue among persons who use refined diction. Mad may, however, be used correctly to designate a condition of overmastering emotion, intense excitement, or infatuation due to grief, terror, or jealousy; as mad with grief; mad with terror. Formerly used correctly as a synonym for "angry" it is now used only colloquially in this sense. Mad, in the present day, denotes a species of insanity.

main guy: A vulgar phrase derived from circus cant in which it designates the chief guy-rope as of a tent. It is commonly used to designate the manager of an establishment, or the person in charge of an undertaking.

make: Often used incorrectly for "earn." Do not say "How much does he make a week?" Say, rather, "How much does he earn a week?"

man. Compare gent.

manifest. Compare apparent.

manner born, to the: A phrase often incorrectly written to the manor from a faulty knowledge of its meaning—familiar with something from birth, or born to the use or manner of the thing or subject referred to.

marine, maritime, naval, nautical: There are distinctions among these words. Marine and maritime, from the Latin mare, the sea, signify belonging to the sea; naval, from the Latin navis, a ship, signifies belonging to a ship; nautical, from the Latin nauta, a sailor, signifies belonging to a sailor or to the sailor's pursuit, navigation. A maritime nation must be well supplied with marine stores, must have a large naval force and be skilled in matters nautical.

marry: Now used correctly of both acceptance in marriage and union in matrimony: formerly condemned as incorrect.

masses: The masses, in the sense of the common people, the great body of the people, exclusive of the wealthy or privileged, has so entered into popular speech that the expression is now beyond criticism, although exception has been taken to it, on the ground that the subject of the mass should be specifically named. The masses of what?

matinee from the French matin, morning, is strictly a morning reception; and to talk of an "afternoon matinée" is therefore, if not a solecism, a contradiction in terms. Still nowadays the word is used to mean an afternoon rather than a morning reception, or entertainment.

me: "It is I," never "It is me." And so with all personal pronouns following the verb to be and in apposition with its subject. The same form of error is constantly made in such phrases as "She is better looking than me," where, if the elliptical verb were supplied, the correct construction would readily be seen to be "She is better looking than I (am)." mean: A word often erroneously used. Its generic meaning is "common" and therefrom it has been accepted as meaning "of humble origin, of low rank or quality, of inferior character or grade" and is used in England as a synonym for "miserly in expenditure, stingy." In the United States it is commonly misused as a substitute for "ill-tempered; disagreeable."

mean. Compare intend.

means: As means or some means covers "any means," it is pleonastic to write "by some means or another." For the same reason some means or other may be condemned; its only excuse is that "other" refers not to "means" but qualifies the word "procedure" (understood). If this form of speech is desired, the correct utterance would be one mean or another.

memoranda should never be used as a singular. It is the plural of memorandum and the distinction should always be observed in speech or writing.

me or my going: Erroneous combinations sometimes used by persons careless with their diction. Do not say "Instead of me (or my) going to London I went to Bermuda"; say, rather, "Instead of going …" Here "me" and "my" are redundant.

merely: Sometimes misused for simply. Merely implies no addition; simply, no admixture or complication; e.g., "The boys were there merely as spectators; it is simply incredible that they should have so disgraced themselves"; "It is simply water."

midst: The Standard Dictionary has the following: "In our, your, or their midst, in the midst of us, you, or them: a form pronounced analogically irreproachable by Fitzedward Hall, in Modern English, p. 50, but objected to by some authorities." Dr. William Mathews is one of these. In his work on "Words: their Use and Abuse," he asks "Would any one say 'In our middle? ' … The possessive pronoun can properly be used only to indicate possession or appurtenance."

mighty used as a synonym for very, exceedingly, or extraordinarily is colloquial but borders on the vulgar. "Mighty fine," "A mighty shame," "Mighty doubtful" are phrases to be avoided.

misspell: Do not write this word mispell. Its component parts are mis + spell, and it retains the double s.

mistakable: Although formerly correctly mistakeable this word does not now retain the "e" after the "k"—an evidence of spelling reform along lines of least resistance due probably to phonology.

mistaken: Originally mistake meant "to take amiss, misconceive, or misunderstand," and on this account some persons claim that you are mistaken means "you are misunderstood"; and that when this observation is made it expresses precisely the reverse of the meaning that the speaker desires to convey. According to them to tell a man he is mistaken, that is, misunderstood, is a very different thing from telling him that he mistakes or personally misunderstands.

The Standard Dictionary treating this word says: The anomalous use of mistaken has naturally attracted the attention of speech-reformers; we ought to mean, "You are misapprehended or misunderstood," they tell us, when we say "You are mistaken, and if we mean "You are in error," we ought to say so. But suppose the alleged misuse of mistaken gives rise to no misunderstanding whatever—that everybody, high or low, throughout the English-speaking world, knows what is meant when one says "You are mistaken"—in that case, to let alone seems to be wisdom. The corruption, if it be one, has the sanction not only of universal employment, but of antiquity.

mitten: An obsolete substitute for glove now revived as a colloquialism in the phrase to get the mitten, that is "to get the glove with the hand withdrawn: said of a rejected suitor for a lady's hand." An allied phrase is to give the mitten to. None of these is used in polite society.

moment, minute: These words are not exactly synonymous. A moment is an infinitesimal part of time; as, "in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye" (I Cor. XV. 52). A minute is the sixtieth part of an hour. One does not take a minute to wink the eye.

monetary. Compare financial.

 moneys, not monies, although often so (improperly) spelt. The rule is clear. Words ending in y necessarily have as their penultimate letter either a vowel or a consonant. If a vowel the plural is formed by adding s; if a consonant by changing the y into ies. Thus, boy, boys; baby, babies.

money to burn: A slang phrase used to denote possession of ample means.

more: Superlatives are often used, though improperly in a comparison of two. "He is the more promising pupil of the two"—not most. Certain scrupulously careful writers, as Augustine Birrell, will even write "the more part," instead of the customary "the most part"; and this usage, though possibly pedantic, is in other respects to be commended.

more strictly correct: A pleonasm. A correct statement may for the sake of emphasis be qualified as strictly correct. If "more strictly correct" is good grammar then "most strictly correct" would be also. Both sentences are erroneous.

more than probable: That which is probable is likely to happen, but that which is more than probable is almost sure to happen. To object to "more than probable," as some persons do, one would have to show that " probable" was absolute and incapable of degrees of comparison, whence of course it is a matter of common observation that some things are highly probable, while others are barely so. That a lover of truth will speak the truth is highly probable, whereas that a confirmed liar will do so is so little probable that the probabilities are on the other side.

'most: Often used colloquially but incorrectly for "almost"; an inexcusable and unwarranted abbreviation. Do not say "my work is most done"; say rather, "… is almost done." Most is used occasionally and correctly for "very"—a use that some writers condemn as incorrect but which is sanctioned by literary usage. Shakespeare says: " So, Sir, heartily well met, and most glad of your company."—Coriolanus, iv. 3.

most is well used as a superlative. Most perfect, thorough, intense, complete, extraordinary, are in common use and have the support of literary usage.

Frederic Johnston says: "Concerning the phrase 'most perfect' some question might be raised. 'Perfect' means, literally, 'made through, to the end,' 'utterly finished,' therefore, of supreme excellence. In that case, 'more' and 'most' perfect are meaningless. We are to remember, however, that the literal is not always the true meaning of a word. Thus 'melancholy' does not mean full of 'black bile,' but 'gloomy' for any reason. ^Moreover, it has of late been pointed out by the best authorities that the true sense of a word is not what it ought to mean, but what it does mean, in the mouths and ears of the upper half of the people. And there can be little doubt that 'perfect,' in this case, merely expresses great rather than supreme excellence. We may even say, further, that the word in its original sense could not be used without a qualifying word (as 'nearly perfect' for example) in a world in which nothing is utterly free from defect. To go about saying that things are 'nearly perfect' would be gross pedantry."

For the sanction of literary usage see the quotations:

"It would be strange, doubtless, to call this the best of Burns's writings: we mean to say, only, that it seems to us the most perfect of its kind as a piece of poetical composition strictly so called."
Carlyle, Essay on Burns, referring to his poem "The Jolly Beggars."

"Our battle is more full of names than yours,
Our men more perfect in the use of arms."
Shakespeare, 2 Hen. IV. iv. i.

"Most perfect goodness." —Cymbeline i. 7.

mought: Although recorded by the dictionaries as the imperfect of "may" and often used for might, the use is one which does sufficient violence to euphony to be characterized as undesirable.

muchly: Although formerly in vogue is now obsolete and stigmatized as slang, and as such to be avoided.

mug: A vulgar characterization for the human face.

murderous should not be used for "dangerous" or "deadly."

music. See chin.

Mussulman: The plural of this word is formed by adding s—Mussulmans not Mussulmen. Here the word "man" is no component part of Mussulman mutual, common: These words are often confounded and have been so by writers of correct English. Mutual implies interchange; common belonging to more than two persons. Before the middle of the eighteenth century, mutual had two meanings: "joint" or "common," and "reciprocal." When Dr. Samuel Johnson published his great dictionary he gave it but one meaning, that of reciprocal, and, his authority as a scholar having grown so great, this meaning became considered the only one which might be correctly given to the word. "Mutual," says Crabb, "supposes a sameness in condition at the same time; reciprocal supposes an alternation or succession of returns." Thus we properly speak of "our common country, mutual affection, reciprocal obligations." While mutual applies to the acts and opinions of persons, and therefore to what is personal, it is not applicable to persons. Macaulay condemned the phrase "mutual friend" as a low vulgarism. A "common friend" is certainly more accurate but unfortunately carries with it the disagreeable idea of inferiority, and probably for this reason is seldom or never used. There is authority of such prolific writers as Scott and Dickens for "mutual friend," but the rapidity with which they wrote their books may suggest that they paid little heed to such refinements of language as did Macaulay Yet centuries of English literature authorize the employment of mutual in the sense of joint or common, On the other hand, the very strong disapproval with which this and like uses of mutual are regarded by many writers of good taste may not unreasonably be considered as sufficient ground for avoiding mutual friend and kindred expressions. "Mutual friends," says Phelps, "would not be accurate" meaning that two persons are friends each to the other.

my. Compare me.

myself: An emphatic pronoun sometimes misused for "I" or "me"; as, "The property was willed to my wife and myself." For "myself" substitute "to me" and the sentence is correct. "Myself" is used correctly with a reflexive verb, that is, one whose object, expressed or implied, denotes the same person or thing as the subject; e. g., "I will control myself."