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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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.