In my my blog post yesterday, March 11, I commented on six of the errors that author Ben Yagoda wrote about in 7 bogus grammar 'errors' you don't need to worry about. Since that blog entry had gotten long, I saved for this post my comments on Yagoda's seventh "It's okay to use ..." item.
I agree with "a lion's share" of Yagoda's first six bogus errors but found more differences with him on his "okay to use" words. When choosing words or phrases, I advocate using the most familiar, simplest version of synonyms that more people will likely understand immediately. But I think it's also useful to choose words, when they're available, that have a precise meaning for your message.
I accept that our language changes over decades and centuries, but the richness of our language and our communication weakens when we get to the point of noting only blue, symbolically, and not the unique shades of blue, like turquoise and teal. We should use familiar nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs but favor familiar words (or phrases) that have unique or even subtle differences in meaning when significant to the message or context of our writing.
[agree] decimate Commonly misused. Remember that the Romans used this word centuries ago to mean killing only one in every 10 of their enemies. They didn't use it to mean killing all their enemies. To decimate now means "to destroy a large part of something or to kill many people." Don't use it to mean simply destroy or annihilate, demolish or wipe out, all of which imply doing away with something completely. And don't use decimate to mean something less significant, such as break, damage, defeat, hamper, kill or reduce. Use one of the stronger or weaker alternative words if that's what you mean.
[disagree] including, like, such as
[disagree] liable, libel, likely
[mostly disagree] over, more than Over usually refers to one thing being above another thing: The plane flew over Bellevue. More than is preferred when using figures, numbers and amounts: More than 300 people attended the meeting. The document had more than 40 pages. But over may be less awkward in some uses: He is over 40. Let your ear be your guide.
[mostly agree] because, since Garbl's Myths and Superstitions of Writing.
[mostly disagree] while
[agree, but ...] momentarily
Use majority for describing the larger of two clearly divisible things: A majority of the councilmembers voted for the resolution. Or be specific: Fifty-two percent of the councilmembers were for the resolution. ...
[mostly disagree] oral, verbal, written Use oral to refer to spoken words: The planner gave an oral presentation. Or be less formal and more specific: The planner gave a talk ... The planner spoke about ... The planner talked about .... Use verbal to compares words with some other form of communication: His facial expression revealed the ideas that his limited verbal skills could not express. Use written to refer to words on paper: The two jurisdictions had a written agreement.
[disagree] could (not) care less If you care somewhat about something, drop the not. But if you don't care at all, keep it._________
Yagoda's column is featured in the March 11 edition in my daily online paper, Garbl's Style: Write Choices, available at the Editorial Style tab above and by free email subscription.