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.]

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.