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The Language Perfectionist: Return of the Confusables

It’s been a while since this column has presented a roundup of “confusables” — pairs of words that are commonly mistaken for one another. So here’s a new set, inspired, as always, by genuine media mistakes:

  • “Many who do admit that privacy regulations restricting the use of information about consumers have costs believe they are born entirely by firms.”

The costs aren’t born but rather borne, a past participle of bear, to carry or support.

  • “When the book was still in gallery form, I read the book to my son’s class….”

The intended word is not gallery but galley, an industry term for pre-publication copies of a book that are used for editing, proofreading, and reviewing.

  • “We dread the daily [Moscow] weather forecasts: 95, 97, 98, 100, 102, 104 (and that is no poetic license; I vouchsafe for the accuracy of these figures).”

The writer intended to say vouch; vouchsafe means deign, to condescend to grant a privilege. Here in America, we don’t have a lot of kings and queens, so not much vouchsafing is done.

  • “It’s incredulous to me that no reputable academic institution has completed the requisite trials if there is even a suggestion of a result in the case of cancer.”

This is a frequent mix-up. An event may be incredible; the person who doesn’t believe it is incredulous.

[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.