Another Round of Confusables

As a lifelong blooper spotter and collector, I’m accustomed to encountering the most bizarre and amusing language gaffes and manglings. But even I was taken aback recently when I saw a sign taped to the cash register of one of my favorite neighborhood cafes: “We respectfully ask for a collaborating ID when paying by credit card.” The correct word, of course, should have been “corroborating.”

This reminded me that it’s time for me to give you another list of words that are commonly confused.

• “Blogging can better help you hone in on your online marketing.” The verb “hone” means sharpen. When people say “hone in on,” they mean “home in on.”

• “Limited amount of $20 seats.” For discrete items that can be counted, “number” is correct. “Amount” is reserved for a bulk quantity, e.g., of tobacco or steel. Another way to remember the distinction: “Amount” is singular; “number” is plural.

• “Marianne Hopko, a sergeant with the county sheriff’s office, apprised the scene.” The verb “appraise” means evaluate. “Apprise” means inform.

• “But the principle cause for concern today is the paralysis of the credit markets.” The adjective meaning foremost is “principal.” The noun “principle” means a basic truth, rule, or law.

• “If we lived in a more orderly society the purveyors of such errant nonsense would be hauled off to the nearest public square.” Strictly speaking, “errant” doesn’t mean erroneous. It means roving or straying. In the phrase (or cliche) “arrant nonsense,” the nonsense is thorough, complete.

• Finally, a prestigious job title was characterized in a newspaper article as having “cache.” The word wanted was “cachet.” A “cache” is a hiding place or secret stash of valuables.

[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 recently published by AWAI that shows writers and other creative professionals how to diversify their careers into speaking, consulting, training, and critiquing.]

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.