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July 07, 2007


Lisa Braithwaite

Ahhh, compose/comprise, one of my major pet peeves. Thanks for setting everyone straight!

Nancy Friedman

Thank you for providing a much-needed service! One quibble: To be strictly correct, I believe one would say "A cosmopolitan comprises these four ingredients." (The whole comprises the parts.)

Dan Santow

Nancy, thank you for your close reading. I've made that correction.

b. collins

and my own personal fave (forgive if you've already noted this pair): reluctant/reticent



Oh, I was good up until "comprise/compose."

Carol Diggs

thank you (again) - can you possibly strike a blow against my hugest pet peeve, using "snuck" instead of the ACTUAL past tense of sneak, "sneaked" (DOH!)? And if you could kill "impact" as a verb (unless we're talking wisdom teeth), I'd appreciate that. Also, using "diffuse" when you really mean "de-fuse" (as in "defuse the issue")...

Loren Santow

I think the most grating misuses are by those who ought to know better. Driving me nuts lately? Quash and squash!


Wow, I get kind of smug sometimes about word usage but I had no idea “discrete” abd “discreet” had, er, discrete meanings. I thought they were variant spellings. You've desmugified me (nothing wrong with making up words, right?)

Margeux Clemmons

I rather disagree with one aspect of this otherwise helpful piece. Concerning the colloqialisms "champing at the bit" and "home in on," I think it is important to keep in mind how these phrases are actually used by speakers of the English language. I am sure that plenty of people do say "champing" and "home," but I myself have never, to my knowledge, heard anyone say these phrases with the "correct" words. Instead, I regularly hear people say "chomping at the bit" and "hone in on." While I'm sure the phrases began with the correct word, it's obvious that the influence of dialectal differences and phonological similarities between the correct/incorrect words during the diffusion of this phrase changed the way many, if not most, people use these phrases. Nowadays, I think people in some areas of the United States would find "champing" and "home" sounded incorrect, and there is something to be said for saying a phrase so correctly (in the historically accurate sense) that it sounds wrong to people who aren't informed of the phrase's origin. I suppose my conclusion is that since these things are normally spoken or only used in informal writing, perhaps the correct version is more subjective than simply how the phrase began long ago.

Margeux Clemmons

Additionally, I noticed that one dictionary, http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/hone, listed "hone in" as a phrasal verb that means "to direct one's attention; focus," a similar meaning to the verb meaning of "home."

Nikki Nelson

The one that always catches me, despite the fact that I do know the difference, is appraise/apprise. For some reason apprise just never looks right!

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Why "Word Wise"?

  • When I started to e-mail out a weekly writing tip to my Chicago colleagues at Edelman in 2002, little did I know how quickly how many people outside my office would start to request it. But word spread, as word is wont to do, and in 2006 the e-mail evolved into this blog. The tips, which are about grammar, usage and style, have a dual purpose – to remind my colleagues in PR of the power of the written word and, more generally, to support and perpetuate clear, concise, creative, honest, lively, stylish, compelling writing everywhere. In 2009 I started to add commentary about and links to stories and other blog posts related to the media, marketing, writing and, sometimes, just interesting stuff. For some reason, I also started Twittering (at SantowDan).