Confusables Redux

I never run out of examples of word pairs that are commonly confused. Here’s another list:

• “Fear of weight gain may mitigate against effective psychiatric treatments.”

The writer meant militate, which means to exert a force or influence. To mitigate means to alleviate, moderate, make something less severe. Thus, the latter word is never properly used with against.

• “Whatever food other people are eating around her, it doesn’t phase her.”

The word wanted here is faze, which means disturb, disconcert, daunt.

• “So, I’d do some digging before I went full boar into streaming.”

Although full boar conjures up an interesting image, the correct expression is full bore. The origin of the metaphor is disputed, but the term originally described the widest capacity of an engine cylinder or gun barrel, thereby suggesting the idea of maximum power.

• “Staff may be reticent to express themselves freely in the presence of supervisors.”

This is one of the most common linguistic mix-ups. The writer meant reluctant. The word reticent means reserved, quiet, taciturn. Thus, one is never reticent to do something.

I found all the examples quoted above by searching the Internet. The tens of thousands of incorrect citations that turned up demonstrate just how frequently these words are misunderstood and misused.

[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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