Jul 25, 2010

Our Crazy Language!

by Marsha Ward

Today I have a few more examples of words that I have seen misused and the proper words folks meant to say or write.

gambut This isn't even a real word. The writer must have meant gambit, but even then, it was wrong in the context in which it was used. She really meant to use gamut. I can see where the "u" in "gambut" came from. Here are the definitions:

Gambit: n. 1 Chess an opening in which a pawn, etc. is sacrificed to get an advantage in position 2 an action intended to gain an advantage. From the Spanish word, gambito, a tripping.

Remember the MacGuyver gambits?

Gamut: n. 1 any complete musical scale 2 the entire range or extent, as of emotions. From the Greek letter gamma, for the lowest note of the medieval scale.

Let's look at other errors:

ancestor/descendant: I see or hear this frequently. Ancestor is the progenitor or forefather/mother of you. You are their descendant. Ancestor is up the line, descendant is down. To make this shorter, I won't give dictionary definitions here.

sells/sales: Sells is a conjugation of the verb "to sell," as in "Janet Evanovich sells a lot of Stephanie Plum books." However, the misuse I have seen/heard lately is where it is employed in the place of sales, a plural noun referring to receipts in business, or the work of, or a department involved in, selling, as in "Sheila obtained a job in sales."

pension/penchant: Wow! This one blew me away, it was so wrong. A pension is a regular payment to one who is retired or disabled. A penchant is a strong liking or inclination. The misuse was along the lines of "Given our pension for choosing multiple social media outlets...." See why it startled me so much?

in tact/intact: I see a lot of this in written usage. The correct form is intact, meaning kept or left whole. In tact takes us to the realm of a delicate perception of the right thing to say to avoid giving offense. Intack is just wrong!

I've edited "English Oopsies" from two weeks ago to include the mistakes I found in the online news report. If you played along, check it out.

But before you leave, can you spot the slight pun in the post above?


  1. A lot of mistakes are missed due to passing spell check. But ancestor/descendant I both hear and see alot. When I mess up let me know so I can fix it quick.

  2. I love little language thing. The ones that I screw up are lay, lie, laid...
    Spell check DOES get those.
    I did have an MC names Brian and spell check doesn't find it when you misspell is Brain.
    Bummer when editing.

  3. So, everyone needs to roll their eyes at my massive amount of typos. Why I try to type with a huge three year old on my lap is beyond me.

  4. Keep us rolling and checking ourselves Marsha.

  5. Thanks Marsha. I'm glad someone cares about the proper use of the English language.

  6. I love reading your posts, Marsha. They make me check and recheck everything I write. ( They actually have me feeling a bit paranoid now...lol)

  7. Sometimes mistakes come from what people THOUGHT they heard. For example, there were some kids at a certain small-town high school I know of who thought the person who got the highest grade point average in the senior class was the "valid Victorian." Chalk it up to our sloppy speech habits. Another one that you see now actually published in books, which means editors missed it, too, is "all the sudden" instead of "all of a sudden." Go figure. We have a fluid, pliable language, and some day all the things we're rolling our eyes at will be universally accepted. Horrifying, isn't it.

  8. Is "nother" a word, because I hear a ton of people (and me, too) saying "It's a whole nother thing." But when you try to use the phrase in your writing, you see there's a problem. It should be "a whole other thing," right?

    Thanks, Word Usage Guru!


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