In my reading, I frequently encounter misused and confused words. Here are five recent sightings, most from major newspapers:

  • “Anyone who passes even feint praise on anything containing Adam Sandler…”

The writer means faint praise — not very much. A feint is a deceptive or diversionary action.

  • “Now, watching a young and inexperienced American president appear to waiver on his commitment….”

This is a common mix-up. To be indecisive is to waver. A waiver is a relinquishment of a right or claim.

  • “Unaware of the possibility of evoking Section 1732, I set up a private transfer treaty to move him to an American prison.”

To evoke means to summon or call to mind. The correct word in this context is invoke, to cite as justification.

  • “If pot were legal, the beer industry would loose money.”

The distinction should be obvious. But an amazing number of people confuse lose, to mislay, with loose, the antonym of tight.

  • “[When I studied foreign languages,] absurdity acted as the impotence for comprehension and eventual memorization.”

Somehow, the desired word impetus, meaning stimulus, morphed into impotence. My guess is that this was the result of an unintended Microsoft Word “auto-correction.” Computers are useful tools but they can also create new problems. There’s no substitute for human intelligence, common sense, and proofreading.

[Ed Note: For more than three decades, Don Hauptman was an award-winning independent direct-response copywriter and creative consultant. He is author of The Versatile Freelancer, an e-book that shows writers and other creative professionals how to diversify their careers into speaking, consulting, training, and critiquing.]

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Don Hauptman was an award-winning independent direct-response copywriter and creative consultant for more than 30 years. He may be best known for his headline “Speak Spanish [French, German, etc.] Like a Diplomat!” This familiar series of ads sold spectacular numbers of recorded foreign language lessons for Audio-Forum, generating revenues that total in the tens of millions of dollars. In the process, the ad achieved the status of an industry classic. Don’s work is mentioned in three major college advertising textbooks, and examples of his promotions are cited in the books Million Dollar Mailings (1992) and World's Greatest Direct Mail Sales Letters (1996). In a column in Advertising Age, his name was included in a short list of direct-marketing “superstars.” He has a parallel career as a writer on language and wordplay. His celebration of spoonerisms, Cruel and Unusual Puns (Dell, 1991), received rave reviews and quickly went into a second printing. His second book was Acronymania (Dell, 1993). Recently, Don retired from full-time copywriting in order to focus on other interests, including his passion for “recreational linguistics.” He is at work on a new book in that genre. He is a regular contributor to the magazine Word Ways and writes “The Language Perfectionist,” a weekly column on grammar and usage, for Early to Rise. Don is author of The Versatile Freelancer,an e-book from American Writers and Artists, Inc. (AWAI) that shows copywriters – and almost anyone – how to diversify their careers into consulting, training, critiquing, and speaking.