A Desk-Book of Errors in English/N

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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


nasty: This word should not be applied to that which is merely "disagreeable," as nasty weather, for strong terms should not be robbed of their significance by being applied to conditions which could only be referred to in such terms by exaggeration. A pigsty is properly termed nasty, as there filth finds its habitat, and an obscene book is nasty as morally foul.

naught. Compare ought under aught.

need, needs: As an adverb need is now obsolete; needs means "necessarily." Do not say "as need he must," say, rather, "as needs he must."

neglect, negligence: The meanings of these words are sometimes confused. Neglect is the act of failing to perform something, as a duty or task, to leave undone; negligence is the habitual omission of that which should be done. Negligence is a trait of character while neglect may result from preoccupation. Fernald in "Synonyms, Antonyms, and Prepositions," says: "Neglect is transitive, negligence is intransitive; we speak of neglect of his books, friends, or duties, in which case we could not use negligence."

negociate, negotiate: The first, now obsolete, was the spelling formerly in vogue; the second is the correct spelling of to-day.

neither, either: For "none" and "any one," is not the best usage; "That he [Shakespeare] wrote the plays which bear his name we know; but … we do not know the years … in which either (correctly, any one) of them was first performed"; "Peasant, yeoman, artisan, tradesman, and gentleman could then be distinguished from one another almost as far as they could be seen. Except in cases of unusual audacity, neither (correctly, no one, or none) presumed to wear the dress of his betters."

neither, nor: In considering these words the Standard Dictionary says: "As disjunctive correlatives, each accompanied by a singular nominative, often incorrectly followed by a plural verb form; as, 'neither he nor I were (correctly was) there.'" Neither, that is, not either, means not the one nor the other of two. "Through diligence he attained a position which he neither aspired to nor coveted"—the proper correlative to use here is nor.

nerve: A slang term sometimes used as a substitute for "impudence," "over-assurance" or "independence," any one of which is preferable.

never, not: While literary authority sanctions the use of never for not in cases where a lapse of considerable time is thought of, as, "I shall be there—never fear" (for do not fear now, or at any time in the interim, that I shall disappoint you), it does not justify its use in a sentence where the time referred to is momentary or short. The emphatic use of this adverb in the sense of not a single one, not at all, is perfectly good, as instanced by Coleridge—"And never a saint took pity on my soul in agony." But the usage will not sanction an extension to things which, from their very nature, could take place—as, say, death—but once. Thus, do not say "Robert Fulton never invented the steamboat"; say, rather, "Robert Fulton did not invent the steamboat." "Paul Jones was never born in the United States" is incorrect. Say ". . . was not born in the United States." Do not say "I met him to-day but he never mentioned the subject." Say, rather ". . . but he did not mention the subject."

never so: Often misused for ever so from which it should be carefully discriminated. Never so means "to an extent or degree beyond the actual or conceivable; no matter how." In common use ever so, meaning no more than "very" or "exceedingly," is often confounded with and used for never so.

never mean: A common slip of the tongue in such phrases as "I never mean to" which is frequently used when "I mean never to" is intended. Compare don't.

nibs: A vulgar title given usually satirically, to a person in authority; as "His nibs sailed to-day": a term to avoid.

nice: This word has undergone a peculiar transformation in sense. Derived from the Latin nescius, ignorant, and originally meaning "ignorant, silly, weak," it has now come to signify "characterized by discrimination and judgment, acute, discerning; as, a nice criticism." The word has, however, also been used colloquially in the sense of "pleasing, jolly, or socially agreeable; as, a nice girl," and the use has been condemned but is too well established to be abandoned.

nicely as a colloquialism for "very well"—as "He is doing nicely—should be avoided.

nifty: A vulgarism for "stylish."

nightly, nocturnal: These words do not have the same signification. The one means night by night, the other happening at night. A man has nightly sleep in which he suffers from nocturnal dreams.

no: According to critics no never properly qualifies a verb, that is, it should never be substituted for "not." But the practise has literary sanction.

no: Often used for "any" by the illiterate. Do not say "We didn't see no flats"; say, rather, "We did not see any flats."

nobby: A vulgar synonym for "having an elegant or flashy appearance; showy; stylish": haberdasher's cant. Compare nifty.

nohow: A vulgarism for "in no way" or "by no means." If after a negative, say "in any way," "by any means," "at all." "I don't believe in them nohow should be "I don't believe in them in the least, or "at all."

nominate: Distinguish from "denominate," which is now only an obsolete sense of the word. To nominate is to designate or specify; as, "Is it so nominated in the bond?" whereas to "denominate" is to give a name or epithet to. Washington was nominated president, but was denominated "Father of his country."

nominatives: The coupling of singular and plural. What number, singular or plural, shall the verb take. It couples two sentences—one on either side—the one having a singular nominative and the other a plural. As to which sentence shall be first and which second, there is commonly but little compulsion: it is a matter of choice. But should this choice affect the verb?—"The wages of sin is death." "Death is the wages of sin." It is merely a matter of taste in forceful diction which nominative shall precede. Yet which is to govern the number of the verb? "What we seek is riches"; "Riches are what we seek"—Probably these two forms of one idea best illustrate the better usage, which appears to be that the verb is dependent upon the nominative which precedes. In explanation of the scriptural phrase, it may be stated that although the prevailing rule with the translators of the Bible appears to have been to use plural verbs when either nominative was plural (that is, in all such cases), still "Death," being here that upon which special emphasis is laid and to which attention is particularly drawn, is permitted to govern the verb.

no more: Often incorrectly used for "any more." Do not say "I don't want to see you no more"; but "I don't want to see you any more," or "again."

none: Although etymologically equivalent to not (a single) one this word is commonly used as a singular under a mistaken idea that it can not be used correctly as a plural, but many writers of standard English have used it as a plural. The Standard Dictionary authorizes the use of the word both as a singular and plural according to the meaning of the context. Where the singular or the plural equally expresses the sense, the plural is commonly used and is justified by the highest authority. "Did you buy melons?" "There were none in the market." "Did you bring me a letter?" "There was none in your box." "None of the three cases have been received" is correct. In illustrating this point the Standard Dictionary gives the following quotation: "Mind says one, soul says another, brain or matter says a third, but none of these are right." And says, "In the preceding quotation the 'are,' altho ungrammatical, connects 'right' with any one of the persons named—not with any one of the things named. If is be substituted for 'are,' 'right' may be as reasonably connected with 'mind,' 'soul,' or 'brain' as with the persons (or classes of persons) spoken of." None used with a plural verb is found repeatedly in such English classics as the works of Bacon and Shakespeare, as well as in the Authorized Version of the Bible.

nor, or: Discriminate carefully between these words when using them after no and not. In such a sentence as "He has no cash or credit," the word "credit" is used as an alternative for "cash," and merely, though perhaps redundantly, to amplify the thought. But if one says "He has no cash nor credit" the meaning is very different, and implies he is without both, "credit" being here considered as an additional asset. In more involved statements the distinction may be of great importance. "Will or disposition," "power or faculty," may be but pairs of synonyms. The locution "will nor disposition," "power nor faculty," distinguishes the two members of a pair as different.

not. Compare never.

notable: Discriminate carefully between the different meanings of this word. A notable event is an event worthy of note; a notable woman is one who exercises care or skill or is prudent as in housewifery.

noted. Compare notorious.

nothing like: Not to be used adverbially for not nearly. Do not say "He was nothing like as handsome as his brother," but "He was not nearly so handsome," etc.

nothing to nobody: An ungrammatical phrase used for "no one's business." Say, rather, "not anything to any one."

not on your life: A vulgar phrase for "not by any means."

notorious is so commonly applied to that which is unfavorably known to the general public, as a notorious crime, just as noted is applied to that which is favorably distinguished, as a noted speech, that it is well not to confound the expressions, but to reserve their use for their own several functions. However, the rule is not invariably followed; for the following expression by Spencer, on "Education" is good. "It is notorious that the mind like the body, can not assimilate beyond a certain rate." no use: Often incorrectly used for "of no use." Do not say "It's no use to discuss it with you," say, rather, "It is of no use to discuss it."

novice. Compare amateur.

number should not be used with such words as innumerable and numerous, which themselves contain the idea of number (Latin numerus). Say "A countless number," not "an innumerable number."

numerous: Often misused for many. Do not say "numerous cattle were in pasture"; say, rather, "Many cattle were in pasture."

nutty: Used in the sense "lacking in intelligence," this word is a vulgarism to be avoided.