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.]

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.