The Language Perfectionist: A Caucus of Confusables

It’s time once again to set the record straight on pairs of words that are commonly confused. Here are examples from print and online sources:

  • “The number had been cut before the premier of the film.”

A gala event is a premiere. The adjective meaning first is premier.

  • “Mr. Heiberger said his new company would provide brokers with a network of consultants – from a concierge service for brokers and their clients to legal services and social-networking advise.”

The noun, intended here, is advice; the verb is advise.

  • “This particular corner, where Canal Street meets West Street and the Hudson River, is one of the more honorific and important intersections in New York City.”

An honorific is a title of respect or a salutation, such as Mister or Doctor. The word presumably wanted in this context (though perhaps with some exaggeration) is honored.

  • “The 19th-century philosopher John Stuart Mill… barely survived a ‘tiger father’ who enforced a regimen of ruthless discipline and learning that would make [author Amy] Chua blanche.”

The verb blanch means to turn pale; Blanche is a woman’s name.

[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.]

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.