A Desk-Book of Errors in English/F

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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


face the music: Slang for to confront with boldness anything of an unpleasant character or any task especially difficult: a metonymic but inelegant phrase.

fade away: In modern parlance a slang phrase first introduced by Thackeray (Vanity Fair, ch. 60, p. 540), and meaning "disappear or vanish mysteriously." The phrase is in good usage, however, in the sense of "to pass away gradually; vanish; die out;" as, "religious animosity would of itself fade away" (Macaulay, Hist. of England, vol. 2, p. 134).

faint, feint, and feign all come from the French, feindre, which is derived from the Latin, fingo, shape. The first two, similarly pronounced, have very different significations. Faint means a sudden loss of consciousness or swoon; feint signifies a deceptive move or pretense. To feign is to make a false show of; pretend.

fake: Slang term for imposition; fraud; also, fictitious or manufactured news. Expressive but inelegant.

fakement: Slang for an act of fraud. Less desirable than preceding and equally inelegant.

fanatic. Compare enthusiast.

farewell: When separated by a pronoun farewell is written as two words; as, fare you well. Exception has been taken to Byron's pathetic lines

Fare thee well, and if for ever,
Then for ever, fare thee well;

but this is hypercriticism for here the pronoun is nothing but the Anglo-Saxon dative.

farther, further: Farther should be used to designate longitudinal distance; further to signify quantity or degree. Thus, "How much farther have we to go?" "Proceed no further along that course."

fault: The different meanings of this word should be clearly distinguished. A man perplexed or one who has made a mistake is at fault; if he has done anything for which he may be blamed he is in fault. A hound is at fault when he has lost the scent.

faun, fawn: Homophones each with a distinct meaning. Faun is from the Latin Faunus, god of agriculture and of shepherds, and signifies a god of the woods; fawn, from the Anglo Saxon faegen, fain, signifies to seek favor by cringing and subserviency.

favor in the sense of "resemble" is a colloquialism, the use of which is not recommended.

faze, feeze: Slang terms for "disconcert" or "confuse," either of which is to be preferred.

feel to: A colloquial expression meaning "to have an impulse;" as "I feel to agree with you," which can not be too severly condemned.

feel bad, feel badly: Discriminate carefully between these terms. If you mean to express the idea that you are ailing in health, feel bad is correct. Feel bad is synonymous with feel ill and is correct. One might as well say feel illy as feel badly if the latter were correct as applied to health. However, feel badly is correct when the intention is to say that one's power of touch is defective as through a mishap to the fingers.

feel good, feel well: Distinguish carefully between these phrases. Good signifies having physical qualities that are useful, or that can be made productive of comfort, satisfaction, or enjoyment, as, a good view, good flour; well signifies having physical health, free from ailment; as, "two are sick, the rest are well." Compare good.

felicitate, congratulate: The distinction in the meanings of these words should be carefully noted. To felicitate is to pronounce one happy and in the strict sense, applies to self alone; congratulate is to wish joy to another. In recent years congratulate has been applied to one's self, and felicitate to another; thus the application of the meanings of these words have been reversed by careless usage.

Trench says, "When I congratulate a person (congratulor) I declare that I am sharer in his joy, that what has rejoiced him has rejoiced me also." Gratulation, does not signify participation, and therefore, is a mere felicitation (or admission of existing happiness or cause for happiness) addressed to another.

female: An opprobrious or contemptuous epithet for woman. Female should be restricted to its correct use. Do not say "With that modesty so characteristic of a female"; say rather, "...so characteristic of a woman." Compare lady.

fermentation, fomentation: Exercise care in the use of these words. Fermentation is a chemical decomposition of an organic compound; fomentation, is the act of treating with warm water.

fetch. Compare bring.

few: Sometimes used incorrectly for "in some measure"; "to an extent"; "somewhat"; "rather"; as, "Did you enjoy yourself?" "Just a few." Few is correctly applied to quantity and incorrectly to quality; therefore, its use as in the illustration given here is not good English.

few and a few must not be confounded. "Few men would act thus" means that scarcely any would; but "A few men will always speak the truth" means that there are some, though not many, whose custom this is.

few, little: The first of these words is sometimes improperly used for the second. Measurement by count is expressed by few, measurement by quantity by little; as, "the loss of a few soldiers will make but little difference to the result." "The fewer his acquaintances, the fewer (not the less) his enemies." Few, fewer, fewest, are correctly used in describing articles the aggregate of which is expressed in numbers; little, less, and least are used of objects that are spoken of in bulk.

figure: E. S. Gould and other critics object to the use of the word in the sense of an amount stated in numbers, as "Goods at a high figure." But Dean Alford is content to give his sanction to its use, and the literary and general public have followed him.

final: Sometimes misused in such a sentence as "the final completion of the work." This is inadmissible, for completion necessarily implies finality.

financial, monetary, pecuniary: Discriminate carefully between these words. Financial is applied correctly to public funds or to the revenue of a government. Monetary and pecuniary apply only to transactions between individuals.

finish. Compare complete.

fire: As this verb possesses the sense of impel, explode, discharge, as by using fire; as, "fire a mine or gun," it has been humorously applied to discharge from employment, as "fire a clerk." But the usage is slang, and as such is avoided by careful speakers.

first: Say the "first two" rather than the "two first," for unless they be bracketed equal there can not be two firsts. For a similar reason the expression seen in cars, "Smoking on the four rear seats," is equally incorrect. There can not be four rear (or last) seats; but there can be "the last four seats." As meaning the four seats collectively which are situated at the rear, the phrase has its only justification.

first and firstly: First being an adverbial form is the correct form to use. Firstly has been used by Dickens, De Quincey, and others but in modern usage first is the preferred form.

first-rate is an adjectival not an adverbial expression. One may say correctly, "He is a first-rate walker," but not that "he walks, first-rate"

fish: When speaking of fish collectively this word represents the plural; speaking of fish severally the plural is formed by the addition of es.

fix: The colloquial use of this noun for a position involving embarrassment or a dilemma or predicament has not the sanction of literary usage. Do not say "I am in a bad fix" say, rather, "... in a bad condition," As a verb, it is better unused in the sense of set or arrange. As meaning "put into thorough adjustment or repair," with the word up added, it is sanctioned by popular usage; but the expression is thought inelegant and indefinite. Some more discriminating term is to be preferred. Fix, in the sense of "disable, injure, or kill," and "fix up" in the sense of "dress elegantly," are vulgarisms.

flap-doodle: An inelegant term for "pretentious silly talk characterized by an affectation of superior knowledge." Twaddle is a preferable synonym. Compare flub-dub.

flash for ostentatious display, as of money, is inelegant. Display is a preferable word.

flew is often misused for fled. Do not say "He flew the city" when you mean that he fled from it.

flies on: "There are no flies on him," is a slang phrase not used by persons accustomed to refined diction.

flock: A word sometimes misapplied. Do not say "a flock of girls;" say, rather, "a bevy of girls" and "a flock of sheep." Flock is correctly applied to a company or collection of small animals as sheep, goats, rabbits, or birds.

flop: is an inelegant word used sometimes to denote change of attitude on a subject. Do not say "He flopped over to the other side"; say, rather, "He went over.…"

flub-dub: A slang term used to designate a literary work that is worthless.

flummux: A vulgarism sometimes used for "perplex" or "disconcert."

fly off the handle: A colloquial phrase meaning to "lose one's self control" as from anger.

folks: The modern colloquial plural use of this term is not to be recommended. The word is properly used, both in singular and plural form, as folk, its correct signification being "people, collectively or distributively."

foment, ferment: Exercise care in the use of these words. Foment is to bathe with warm or medicated lotions; ferment, to cause chemical decomposition in. Both words are also used figuratively.

fondling, foundling: Discriminate carefully between these words. A fondling is a person fondled or caressed; a foundling is a deserted infant whose parents are unknown.

fooling: The use of the word in the sense of "deceiving " has been condemned by certain writers as a "very vulgar vulgarism," but is permissible, having the sanction not only of good literary authority but of modern dictionaries. See Tennyson's "Gareth and Lynette" (st. 127): "Worse than being fool'd of others is to fool one's self."

for and to; These words are often added at the end of a sentence by careless speakers but are redundant. Do not say "Less than you think for"; nor "Where are you going to?"

forget it: When used as the equivalent of "don't talk about it," is a vulgarism that can not be too severely condemned.

fork over: Slang for "hand over," a preferable phrase.

former: This word can refer to only one of two persons or things previously mentioned, never to any one of three or more. Avoid such construction as the following: " Mr. Henley says that had Rosetti and Byron been contemporaries, some of the former's (meaning Rosetti) verses would have caused the latter (meaning Byron) to blush." Here, former refers to Mr. Henley, but the context shows clearly the intention of the writer to refer to Rosetti.

forsake. Compare abandon.

fort, forte: These two words similarly pronounced must be distinguished. In each case the derivation is the same (the Latin fortis, strong), and although there is an alternative spelling or fort for "forte" it is not the favored form. A fort signifies a fortification held by a garrison; forte is that in which an individual chiefly excels.

fracas: A fracas is a brawl or an uproar, not a part of the human anatomy. Therefore, avoid such expressions as "He was stabbed in the fracas." Say, rather, "During the fracas he was stabbed."

fraud: Just as cheat has been made to do duty both for the act and the person committing the act, so in colloquial usage has fraud been made to represent not only the act but also its perpetrator. It has even been extended to "a deceptive or spurious thing." These usages of fraud are, however, not to be recommended.

freeze: This word has nothing in common with frieze save the pronunciation. The former is an Anglo-Saxon term, whereas the latter comes from the French frise, for fraise, a ruff. To freeze is to convert into ice, congeal; to frieze is to provide with a frieze, which is, in architecture, the middle division of an entablature.

freeze out: A vulgar phrase for to "treat with coldness, as of manner or conduct."

freeze to: An inelegant colloquialism for "cling to," sometimes found in literature as in Kipling's "Mine Own People," p. 209.

frequently. Compare commonly.

fresh in the sense of "full of ignorant conceit and presumption" is slang and as such is avoided by persons careful with their diction.

friend: Carefully distinguish between friend and acquaintance. The former is an acquaintance who has been admitted to terms of intimacy, and who is regarded with a certain amount of affectionate regard. A person to whom one has received a bare introduction is an acquaintance—nothing more.

frieze. Compare freeze.

from: A preposition often incorrectly used for "of." From should not be used elliptically. Do not say "He died from pneumonia" when you mean from the effects of pneumonia." Here effect suggests the cause from which the result proceeded. "He died of pneumonia" is correct.

froze: A term sometimes misused for frozen. Froze is the imperfect of the verb freeze, while frozen is a participial adjective. It is incorrect to say, "My hands are froze," here frozen should be used.

-ful. The plural of compounds ending in -ful, as spoonful is formed in the same manner as the plural of other nouns of regular formation—by the simple addition of a final "s," as, spoonfuls. So when a physician prescribes medicine to be taken by the spoonful more than once a day, these are correctly spoken of as spoonfuls. But supposing more than one medicine is to be taken and that the medicines do not assimilate thus requiring more than one spoon to administer them; then it would be correct to refer to the different doses as spoons full, since the words denote more than one spoon full. Spoonfuls denote one spoon filled more than once.

fulfil: Remember that in this word the "l" is not doubled but that it is in fulfilling.

full, fuller: Terms sometimes incorrectly used. A "full cup," is a cup completely filled, therefore it would seem illogical to say "my cup is fuller than yours." As a rule all words that in themselves express the idea of completion or perfection should be used only in the positive degree. A perfection greater than itself is inconceivable, yet in literature, and with speakers who are accustomed to a careful choice of words, this form of expression has been permitted for comparison in the absence of an absolute standard of measurement.

full: A coarse substitute for "intoxicated."

funeral: A term sometimes misused for "affair," or "business," as in the phrase "Not my funeral" meaning "No business of mine." The use is not to be commended.

funny: As a colloquialism signifying "queer" this adjective should be used with care. It is better retained for signification of that which is mirth-provoking or ludicrous. Funny is sometimes used incorrectly to imply silly impropriety, as in the phrase, "Don't get funny". Such usage should be avoided.

further. Compare farther.

future, the: Used sometimes to signify the present; as, "I shall be happy to accept"—this is not what is meant. The meaning is "I am happy to accept, for I shall be happy to come," or "(Because) I shall be happy to (come I am happy to) accept"; and the elliptical result is that there is elision of the words in parentheses. In a recent lawsuit the plaintiff lost $10,000 because a so-called guarantee was given in these terms: "I will guarantee" instead of "I (hereby do) guarantee." The guarantee provided had never been asked for, given, or obtained. The credulous victim had accepted a promise, without condition, for a performance; and he lost. Time has improved his knowledge of the force of the English tongue.