A Desk-Book of Errors in English/L
lady: The use of this word as "a mere distinction of sex is a sheer vulgarism." Never say "A man and his lady," but "a man and his wife," or preferably, by name, "Mr. and Mrs. John Smith." Where woman, as indicative of sex, is intended, say woman—not lady or female. A female is equally female, whether person or beast. In the United States "woman" is preferable; in England "lady" is used chiefly when the term is not preceded by a qualifying adjective. The word woman best expresses the relation of the female sex to the human race. Some ill-informed persons use lady for woman under the mistaken idea that woman is a derogatory term; such use is downright vulgarity. As one never hears salesgentleman but salesman, therefore saleslady should be avoided; say, rather, saleswoman.
lambaste is slang and as such should not be used as a substitute for "flog," "whip," or ["]beat."
lassitudinous is not a desirable substitute for "languid" or "weary."
last, latter: The first of these words is not properly used of only two, since it is a superlative; the second, not properly of more than two, since it is a comparative. Notwithstanding the fact that the use of last for latter and of latter for last has had wide sanction, the present tendency is toward strict construction.
last two. Compare first and two first.
lay, lie: In discriminating the uses of these words the Standard Dictionary says: Lay, vt., "to put down," "to cause to lie down," is a causal derivative of lie, vi., "to rest." The principal parts of the two verbs are:
The identity of the present tense of lay, vt., with the imperfect tense of lie, vi., has led to the frequent confounding of the two in their literary usage. Lay (in the present tense) being transitive, is always followed by an object; lie, being intransitive, never has an object. Lay, in "I lay upon thee no other burden," is the present tense of lay, vt., having as its object burden; in "I lay under the sycamore-tree in the cool shade," lay is the imperfect tense of lie, vi., having no object; laid, in "I laid the book on the table," is the imperfect tense of lay, vt., having as its object book. The presence or absence of an object, and the character of the verb as transitive or intransitive, may be decided by asking the question "Lay [or laid] what?" The past participles of the two verbs (laid and lain) are also frequently confounded. Laid in tense-combinations is to be followed by a object always; lain, never; as, "He has laid (not lain) the book on the table"; "He has lain (not laid) long in the grave."
The statement in present time, "The soldier lays aside his knapsack and lies down," becomes as a statement of a past act; as, "The soldier laid aside his knapsack and lay down"; "The hen has laid an egg"; "The egg has lain (too long) in the nest."
In poetic phraseology especially, the transitive lay (in all its tenses) is used reflexively as an equivalent of lie, lay, etc., as in the following examples:
Pres. I lie down
I lay me down.
learn, teach: Once learn was good English for teach, and signified both the imparting as well as the acquiring of knowledge. An example of this use may be found in Shakespeare (Romeo and Juliet) and the Book of Common Prayer, but general modern usage restricts learn to the acquiring and teach to the imparting of knowledge.
least: Grammatical writers have reason on their side in objecting to the use of a superlative for a comparative. "Of two evils choose the less," is better than "choose the least." A careful speaker will observe this form. See more and most.
leather as a colloquialism for "thrash" should not be used by persons accustomed to refined diction.
lease and hire are loosely used interchangeably. An agent says he has property to hire (= for hire) while the tenant says he leases it. Strictly, the former leases and the latter hires.
leave is used transitively and intransitively, but critics have objected to the latter use on the ground that the verb to leave is not expressive of any occupation—does not, in fact, of itself convey any complete idea. It is true that if you speak you can speak only that which can be spoken, whereas if you leave you may leave home or any one of a thousand things; but as home (business or domestic) may be regarded as the chief of a man's possessions, it has been fancifully treated as being the one all-important subject to which unqualified leaving applies. One certainly may say with propriety "He has just left"; "We leave tomorrow." Avoid such locutions as "Leave me alone"; "leave her see it," as illiterate. Use let instead of leave.
left, to get: A slang phrase for "to be left behind; be beaten or outdone." Avoid such a vulgarism as "Did you ever get left?"
legacy. Compare bequest.
lend. Compare loan.
lengthen, lengthy: The verb means to "make or to grow longer." Its participle lengthened no more means "long" than heightened means "high" or strengthened means "strong." It is correct to say "He lengthened the discourse, but it was still too short"; but not to say "He quoted a lengthened passage from the sermon." In the latter illustration lengthy should be used. A sermon is lengthy when "unusually or unduly long" (with a suggestion of tediousness), not when it is simply "long."
lengthways, sideways, endways: Common but none the less undesirable variants of lengthwise, sidewise, endwise.
less. Compare few.
lessen. Compare reduce.
let her rip: Farmer, in his "Americanisms Old and New," says, this "most vulgar of vulgarisms" is used to convey the idea of intensity of action. The phrase is coarse and should not be used as a substitute for "go ahead."
level, on the: A vulgar intensive used to emphasize the fact that the thing stated is stated truthfully, or that the person spoken of is, to the speaker's knowledge, upright and "on the square." Compare square.
levy, levee: Exercise care in the use of these words. Levy is to impose and collect by force; levee, a morning reception.
liable, likely: The first of these words which is properly used as expressive of "having a tendency" is improperly used in referring to a contingent event regarded as "very probable." Thus, though one should not say "It is liable to storm," but "likely to do so," one may say, "the building is liable to be blown down by the storm."
libel, slander: These are not synonymous terms. Libel differs from slander in that the latter is spoken whereas the former is written and published.
lick: An inelegant term used colloquially as a synonym for "effort"; as, "he put in his best licks. Say, rather, "He put forth his best efforts."
lid: A slang term for cover, hat, etc., used especially in the phrases keeping the lid down, sitting on the lid, political colloquialisms for closing up places of business, as pool-rooms, saloons, etc., or keeping a political situation in control.
lie. Compare lay.
lightening, lightning: The spelling of these words is sometimes confused. Lightening is to relieve "of weight"; as, "to lighten a burden"; lightning is a sudden flash of light due to pressure caused by atmospheric electricity. The shorter word designates the flash of light.
like, in the adverbial sense of "in the manner of," as, "He speaks like a philosopher," is correctly used, but the tendency to treat this word as a conjunction (which it is not) in substitution for as is altogether wrong. Do not say "Do like I do"; say, rather, "Do as I do." It is also a colloquialism, not sanctioned by good usage, to give the word the signification of as if, as "I felt like my final hour had come"; and the use of the word as synonymous for somewhat is a vulgarism. Say "He breathed somewhat heavily"—not "heavy like." When like is followed by an objective case, as "Be brave like him," the preposition unto must be supplied by ellipsis. For this reason as for the fact that like here has the force of a conjunction, introducing the implied phrase "he is brave," it is better to say "Be brave as he is."
like, love: Discriminate carefully between these words, which are often erroneously used interchangeably. A woman may love her children and like fruit, but not like her children and love fruit.
likewise. Compare also.
limb, leg: There exists an affected or prudish use of the word limb instead of leg, when the leg is meant, which can not be too severely censured. Such squeamishness is absurd.
limit, the: A vulgarism designating the extreme of any condition or situation: used indiscriminately of persons or conditions.
limited: Often erroneously used for small, scant, slight, and other words of like meaning; as, "He had a limited (slight) acquaintance with Milton"; "Sold at the limited (low or reduced) price of one dollar"; "His pecuniary means were likely to remain quite limited"—admissible if suggesting the reverse of unlimited wealth, otherwise small or narrow.
lineament, liniment: The lineament is the outline or contour of a body or figure, especially the face. Liniment is a medicated liquid, sometimes oily, which is applied to the skin by rubbing as for the relief of pain. Exercise care in spelling these words.
lip: A very vulgar substitute for "impudence."
lit in the sense of lighted is not used by careful speakers. Do not say "Who lit (but 'who lighted') the gas?"
lit on: A common error for "come across," "met with," which should be discountenanced. Do not say "I lit on the quotation by accident"; say, rather, "I came across the quotation." Nor "I lit on him at the fair." One does not light on people whom one meets.
little. Compare few.
loan, lend: One may raise (put an end to) a loan by paying both principal and interest, and another may lend money to do so. The use of loan as a verb, meaning, "to grant the loan of or lend, as ships, money, linen, provisions, etc.," dates from the year 1200 and is accepted as good English. Some purists, however, characterize it colloquial.
lobster: A slang term used originally to designate a British soldier, probably, in the phrase boiled lobster, from his red coat: now applied indiscriminately to gullible persons, perhaps on account of the reputed gullibility of the British soldier.
lonely, solitary: These two words must not be confounded, for their meaning is not exactly the same, although the Latin solitarius is derived from solus, alone. Solitary indicates no more than absence of life or society; lonely suggests the idea of being forsaken or isolated. A solitary person is not of necessity lonely, even though he take a solitary walk in a lonely place. A man is not lonely if he is good company to himself.
look: In the intransitive sense of "seem," this verb should be followed by an adjective, not an adverb. Thus, "he looks kind (not kindly)." It is otherwise in the sense of "exercising the sense of sight." Here the adverb is used to the exclusion of the adjective. "He looks kindly (not kind) upon the fallen foe." Actions are qualified by adverbs, but adjectives qualify what one is or seems to be.
lot or lots: A slipshod colloquialism for "great many"; as, "We sold a lot of tickets"; "He has lots of friends"; to be avoided, as are all other vague, ill-assigned expressions, as tending to indistinctness of thought and debasement of language. Compare HEAP.
love. Compare like.
lovelily: To the general exclusion of this word, lovely is now made to do duty both as adverb and adjective.
lovely: A valuable word in proper use, as applied to that which is adapted and worthy to win affection; but as a colloquialism improperly applied indiscriminately to every form of agreeable feeling or quality. A bonnet is lovely, so is a house, a statue, a friend, a poem, a bouquet, a poodle, a visit; and it is even said after an entertainment, "The refreshments were lovely!"—all examples of careless diction.
low-priced: Often confounded with cheap. A thing is cheap when its price is low compared with its intrinsic worth, it is low-priced when but little is paid or asked for it. A low-priced article may be dear; a cheap article may not be low-priced; as, "One horse was low-priced (he paid only $50 for it), and it was dear at that price; the other cost him $500, but was cheap at that price."
lurid should not be used for brilliant. Lurid means "giving a ghastly, or dull-red light, as of flames mingled with smoke, or reflecting or made visible by such light."
luxuriant, luxurious: These words are not identical in sense. The former signifies growth, as "hair of luxuriant growth"; the latter implies luxury, as "luxurious ease."
"But grace abused brings forth the fondest deeds,
As richest soil the most luxuriant weeds."
"And send the sentinel before your gate
A slice or two from your luxurious meals."