Another Roundup of Common Mistakes

Language errors occur so frequently that this subject is a well that will never run dry for those of us who write about grammar and usage. Here’s a new list of common misuses and misspellings, with examples drawn from online and print media:

• “Last year one of [FedEx’s] commercials featured a giant carrier pigeon wrecking havoc on a city.”

That may sound logical, but the correct expression is wreaking havoc. The word wreak means to execute or bring about.

• “Albright, 38, says he’s the only dad among his son’s friend group that plays games with his kids. This jives with a recent AOL/Associated Press poll that showed four in 10 parents never game with their game-playing kids.”

Maybe it’s the jazzy sound of the word “jive” that makes this such a popular error, but it should be jibes with. The word jibe means to agree, to be in accord.

• “I installed the board, and hooked up everything, 100% confident that it would have no problems. But low and behold, as it was starting to boot into Windows, I watched the CPU fan spin down to 0 RPM.”

People write the phrase as they hear it, but it’s really lo and behold. The archaic word lo, an exclamation of surprise, means look.

• “Finland is Europe’s most homogenous society, a nation of mostly blond ethnic Finns whose declining birthrate creates the classic 21st-century European dilemma.”

This is a common confusion in both speaking and writing. The writer of the above excerpt means homogeneous (hoh-muh-JEEN-ee-us), meaning of the same nature or having uniform characteristics. Yes, homogenous is a real word, with a technical meaning in biology. But the word wanted in almost every case is the one with five syllables, not four.

By the way, when I Googled homogenous, I got three million links – and the helpful query, “Did you mean homogeneous?”

[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.]

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