A Desk-Book of Errors in English/W

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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


wa'n't: A contraction of was not, or improperly of were not; as, "He wa'n't (or they wa'n't) at home": a common vulgarism.

want and need are not synonymous terms, although both denote a lack. Want, however, refers more properly to a personal conception of shortcoming or shortage, whereas need denotes the matter of fact. Thus a delinquent son may need castigation, while he distinctly does not want it. Want, therefore, signifies a wdsh to supply what is lacking. But the word want is sometimes less strong than need, for a covetous man wants (i. e., desires) many things he does not need (or things for which he has an absolute necessity). "I need assistance or I shall drown." Again, "I want a position, but do not need it, because I can continue as I am without it; but when resources fail I shall need it."

want of: An undesirable colloquialism. Do not say "What does he want of a yacht?" say, rather. want with, or "What need has he of a yacht?"

warm: A slang term used for "rich," formerly in vogue in England.

warm, not so: A vulgar phrase applied to persons and meaning usually "not as important" or "not as accurate" as the person to whom the epithet is applied may think himself to be.

was, is: These terms are sometimes confused, especially in dependent sentences that state unchanging facts. Then the present tense should be used in the dependent sentence notwithstanding the fact that the principal verb may denote action in the past. Say, "He said that space is (not was) infinite"; "We assert that life is everlasting. "

watch, observe: These words have a similarity of meaning, but watch expresses a scrutiny or close observation which is not implied by the latter. You observe a preacher's manner but carefully watch a thief. When you observe intently and concentrate your entire thoughts upon the thing observed you watch. You observe the hour of day but watch the time lest you lose your train.

way or 'way, as an abbreviation of the adverb away, as "'way out West," is an impropriety of speech. Say, rather, "He has gone (or is in the) West."

ways, for way: In the sense of "space or distance," the erroneous form ways, for way, is often used colloquially, perhaps originally through confusion with the suffix -ways; as, "The church is a long ways from here," which should be "The church is a long way," etc.

weary. Compare tired.

weather, under the: In the sense of "somewhat ill," as though depressed by the weather, this is a colloquialism better avoided.

went: This word should never be used as a participle; say, "He went" or "he has gone" instead of "he has went." Never use went after any part of the verb have. Do not say "I have went there often"; but "I have been there often." Went should never be used for go. Some illiterate people say "I should have went" when they mean "I should have gone."

were her: Often used incorrectly as in the sentence "If I were her." Say, rather, "If I were she." Her is the objective case; here the nominative she should be used.

wharf: E. S. Gould declares that as dwarves would be an improper plural for dwarf, so is wharves for wharf. However, both forms are now admitted. Compare dock.

what: As what is both antecedent and relative the use of the antecedent with this word is wrong. "All what he said was false" should be corrected by the elision of "all." What is used only in reference to things, whereas that can be said of persons, animals, and things, and can be substituted for it.

what was, what was not: "What was" and "what wasn't my surprise" may both be used correctly to express considerable surprise, and with almost the same meaning, the one expression differing from the other but by a shade in sense. "How great was my surprise," and "What surprise could equal or be greater, than mine," would about paraphrase the usages. The former sentence implies great surprise, but the possibility (though unreferred to) of a greater; the latter indicates that there could not be any greater surprise

wheels in the (or his) head, to have: A slang phrase used as a substitute for "to be eccentric, peculiar, or erratic."

whence: "Whence came you" is sufficient and correct. "From whence" is pleonastic, the whence being nothing less than "from where" and thus including the from. Compare thence.

where: The prepositions to or at should never end a sentence beginning with where. Such use is vulgar and illiterate. Avoid: "Where has he gone to?" "Where was I at?"

whereabouts: This word, plural in form, but singular in construction, always takes a verb, in the singular. "Husband and wife disappeared; their whereabouts is a mystery. "

wherever: This word, although a combination of two words "where" and "ever" is not spelt "where ever" when written as a solid word. Then it drops the first "e" in "ever" and is correctly "wherever."

whether: Avoid such a locution as "whether or no," which is rapidly gaining ground, and say instead the preferable phrase, "whether or not." Whether properly means "which of two." Therefore, in expressing doubt, make mention merely of the exact thing doubted without using the word whether unless it be to introduce an alternative subject of doubt or a comparison of doubts. Just as either, which is strictly applicable to two only is wrongly applied to more than two, so is whether, which is a contraction of which of either.

which. Compare that, who.

who: Often improperly used for whom: a mark of ignorance when so applied. Do not say "Who do you refer to?" but "To whom do you refer?" Not "Who is that for?" nor "Who did you give it to?" but "For whom is that?" "To whom did you give it?" Compare that, who.

whole, whole of: The whole or whole of should be used before a plural noun carefully, and then only when the body is referred to collectively. In general the word entire would better express the phrase. In such cases all should never be employed, as this relates to the individual of which the body is composed. Thus, one may say, "The whole staff accompanied the general," or (for emphasis) "The whole of the staff," etc., but it would be better to say "The entire staff." If referring to the individual officers, the sentence should read "All members of the staff accompanied the general."

whole push, the. See push.

widow woman: A pleonasm. Do not use the word widow, which applies only to a woman, with the words woman or lady. It is an error of speech, common in rural districts, against which it is wise to continually guard.

wife. Compare lady.

wild: A colloquialism for "angry" which is to be preferred.

windbag: A coarse term for a boastful and wordy talker: not used by persons who cultivate a refined diction. "Braggart," "braggadocia," are more elegant, yet equally expressive terms.

with, and: A nominative singular is sometimes used with an objective after with to form, jointly, the subject of a plural verb; as "The captain with all his crew were drowned." But according to best usage the conjunction and is substituted for "with"; thus, "The captain and all his crew were drowned." Where the objective is separated parenthetically by commas, a verb in the singular is used; as, "Aguinaldo, with all his followers, was captured by Gen. Funston."

without: This, as used for "except" or "unless" is at the present day a vulgarism. "Without you intend business, do not call"; say, unless.

witness. Compare see.

woman. Compare lady.

worse: An adverb sometimes used for more; as, "He disliked tea worse than coffee": a vulgarism.

worst kind: For much or extremely; as, "I need (or want) a new pen the worst kind ": a vulgarism, besides equivocally suggesting "the worst kind of a pen."

would better. Compare had better.

would say: A hackneyed expression used by many commercial correspondents; inelegant and useless.

would seem should not be used for "seems."

wrath. Compare temper.

write you: This expression, for "write to you, " though common,is not grammatically correct. Where an object is expressed the dative "to" may be omitted. "He shipped me costly fabrics," for "he shipped costly fabrics to me" is permissible, but "he shipped me" without any objective, or rather other objective of me would imply that the person speaking had been shipped. Of the expression "I will write you," the only justification for it that can be found is in the supposition that the words "a letter" are understood.