Write It Right:
A Little Blacklist of Literary Faults
Novel for Romance. In a novel there is at least an apparent attention to considerations of probability; it is a narrative of what might occur. Romance flies with a free wing and owns no allegiance to likelihood. Both are fiction, both works of imagination, but should not be confounded. They are as distinct as beast and bird.
Numerous for Many. Rightly used, numerous relates to numbers, but does not imply a great number. A correct use is seen in the term numerous verse—verse consisting of poetic numbers; that is, rhythmical feet.
Obnoxious for Offensive. Obnoxious means exposed to evil. A soldier in battle is obnoxious to danger.
Occasion for Induce, or Cause. “His arrival occasioned a great tumult.” As a verb, the word is needless and unpleasing.
Occasional Poems. These are not, as so many authors and compilers seem to think, poems written at irregular and indefinite intervals, but poems written for occasions, such as anniversaries, festivals, celebrations and the like.
Of Any for Of All. “The greatest poet of any that we have had.”
Offhanded and Offhandedly. Offhand is both adjective and adverb; these are bastard forms.
On the Street. A street comprises the roadway and the buildings at each side. Say, in the street. He lives in Broadway.
Only. “He only had one.” Say, He had only one, or, better, one only. The other sentence might be taken to mean that only he had one; that, indeed, is what it distinctly says. The correct placing of only in a sentence requires attention and skill.
Opine for Think. The word is not very respectably connected.
Opposite for Contrary. “I hold the opposite opinion.” “The opposite practice.”
Or for Nor. Probably our most nearly universal solecism. “I cannot see the sun or the moon.” This means that I am unable to see one of them, though I may see the other. By using nor, I affirm the invisibility of both, which is what I wanted to do. If a man is not white or black he may nevertheless be a Negro or a Causcasian; but if he is not white nor black he belongs to some other race. See Neither.
Ovation. In ancient Rome an ovation was an inferior triumph accorded to victors in minor wars or unimportant battle. Its character and limitations, like those of the triumph, were strictly defined by law and custom. An enthusiastic demonstration in honor of an American civilian is nothing like that, and should not be called by its name.
Over for About, In, or Concerning. “Don’t cry over spilt milk.” “He rejoiced over his acquittal.”
Over for More than. “A sum of over ten thousand dollars.” “Upward of ten thousand dollars” is equally objectionable.
Over for On. “The policeman struck him over the head.” If the blow was over the head it did not hit him.
Over with. “Let us have it over with.” Omit with. A better expression is, Let us get done with it.
Pair for Pairs. If a word has a good plural use each form in its place.
Pants for Trousers. Abbreviated from pantaloons, which are no longer worn. Vulgar exceedingly.
Party for Person. “A party named Brown.” The word, used in that sense, has the excuse that it is a word. Otherwise it is no better than “pants” and “gent.” A person making an agreement, however, is a party to that agreement.
Pay for Give, Make, etc. “He pays attention.” “She paid a visit to Niagara.” It is conceivable that one may owe attention or a visit to another person, but one cannot be indebted to a place.
Pay. “Laziness does not pay.” “It does not pay to be uncivil.” This use of the word is grossly commercial. Say, Indolence is unprofitable. There is no advantage in incivility.
Peek for Peep. Seldom heard in England, though common here. “I peeked out through the curtain and saw him.” That it is a variant of peep is seen in the child’s world peek-a-book, equivalent to bo-peep. Better use the senior word.
Peculiar for Odd, or Unusual. Also sometimes used to denote distinction, or particularity. Properly a thing is peculiar only to another thing, of which it is characteristic, nothing else having it; as knowledge of the use of fire is peculiar to Man.
People for Persons. “Three people were killed.” “Many people are superstitious.” People has retained its parity of meaning with the Latin populus, whence it comes, and the word is not properly used except to designate a population, or large fractions of it considered in the mass. To speak of any stated or small number of persons as people is incorrect.
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