The Language Perfectionist: Still More Confusables

It’s time once again for a look at commonly confused words. I found the following examples in print and online.

  • “Are you inferring that I have plagiarized your post…?”

The words imply and infer are often misused. A speaker or writer implies (suggests). A listener or reader infers (deduces). So the testy question above should read: “Are you implying that I have plagiarized your post…?”

  • “But to the army of IT flaks who dominate the blogosphere… a desire for privacy is something to be scoffed at.”

The pejorative for a publicist is flack. The word flak is a German acronym for an antiaircraft gun, which inspired the colloquial English meaning of criticism or abuse. Note: The acronym stands for Flieger (flier/aircraft) Abwehr (defense) Kanone (gun/cannon).

  • “The first of these scenes is the suitors’ choice between the three caskets in The Merchant of Venice.”

A choice is made between two alternatives but among more than two.

  • “The collection includes exceptional tables, cabinets, folio stands, and dressing mirrors commissioned for… railroad magnet Mark Hopkins.”

Hopkins may have had a magnetic personality, but the correct word here is magnate — a powerful industrialist.

[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.]