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The Language Perfectionist: The Confusables are Back!

It’s time once again to clarify common confusions among similar words. All of the following examples appeared in major newspapers or online articles.

  • “The census counts military personal and federal employees living abroad, but no other citizens.”

Of course, the word wanted here is not personal but personnel.

  • “Cannon 2 of the Code of Conduct for United States Judges holds that judges should ‘act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence….'”

A cannon is a weapon. A canon is a law, rule, or principle.

  • “You put your brand at risk if one of your devices has an issue with the battery. What we’ve done is look at creating backups, duplicity in development….”

I hope that the high-tech executive quoted here meant duplication, not duplicity. The latter word means deceptiveness or deceitfulness.

  • “For effective learning to take place, a classroom should have a community-like environment. Students need to feel comfortable and accepted. They should not fear failure or be weary of sharing their opinions and presenting their ideas.”

It’s true that some students are weary, or tired. But in this case, they are wary of voicing their views — cautious or hesitant.

[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.]