Saturday 6 June 2009

Grammar: Howlers

When reaching for an impressive word, it's quite easy to pick the one next to it, which means something quite different. Such blunders are known as "howlers". Some people call them solecisms.

When I was looking for a flat, I read a lot of estate agents' "details". They all ran something like this: Construed in the 60s, a flay within waling distance of the fashionable immunities of Church Street, converted in this vicarage, in a quite residential neighbourhood, comprimises of carpet flooring. Everything is separated from a central hallway, leaving room contains kitchen.

Fractured French: It's so impressive to drop French phrases into the conversation, or use one for the marquee of your shop. But if you call your clientèle (clients) your "cliental" and claim that you like to swim without a costume, "au natural" (it's "au naturel"), you'll impress people in a way you didn't intend. So watch out for Essex shops Sans Souchie (Sans Souci or "no worries") and Femme Fatél (that's "fatale"). Serve your guests crudités, not crudettes, and canapés, not canapps. Those things on the shoulders (épaules) of your jacket are epaulettes, not epliattes. But if people got it right all the time life would be much duller (ennuyant).


déclassé for passé: “the strong, silent father type became declassé a good while ago” Ben Gorge quoted in Observer June 7 09 (lost caste/dated)

lethal for dangerous: cocktails in Faliraki contain “lethal” amounts of industrial alcohol Observer 14 June 09 (If the amount was lethal, it would kill everybody who drank it.)

bulgingly for bunglingly: “unfairly, bulgingly or carelessly” Andrew Billen, Times May 27 09

sheaths for sheaves: "create elegant looks out of old sofa covers, wood, home-butchered rabbits, paper or sheaths of wheat." Guardian May 30 (knife-protector/bunch of wheat)

saturnine for sleazy: some saturnine pub that speaks of bacchanalian nocturnal activity Times Sat February 14, 2009

scrimmage for rummage Times June 4 09

bridalpath for bridle path Times June 4 09 (no such word/path you ride along on a horse)

pawn for flog: artists forced to “pawn off” works, Obs June 14 09

klutz for dummy: Bill Bryson’s science for klutzes… Sue Arnold G Mar 7 09 (clumsy clot/ignoramus)

wolverine for lupine: Caitlin Morgan T Mar 14 09 (A wolverine is a large, scary American weasel. Anyone lupine is wolf-like.)

bergament for bergamot (Gardeners’ World, May 29 09)

brain child for mastermind (A “brain child” is not the same as a “brainbox”. Athena, Greek goddess of wisdom, was born “fully formed”, ie as an adult, directly from the head of Zeus.)

pentagon for pentagram: "The Wicca pentagon" Times 7 Oct 06

ring for wring: The Tories in conference in Perth this weekend had George Osborne to ring Scottish withers… Peter Preston Guardian May 18 09 (cause to chime/twist to remove water) So why would anybody be wringing withers? Peter Preston means something like "to annoy the Scots". Hamlet said: “Let the galled jade wince, our withers are unwrung.” He meant something like: "Let the saddle-sore mare wince, nobody has touched our sore spot." At least, a "galled jade" is a saddle-sore mare. A horse's withers are its shoulders. He was trying to say: "If your conscience is uneasy, you'll wince; I'm in the clear." But he didn't want to be too obvious about it. (Can I have my A level now?)

Toile de Joie, Touile de Joie for Toile de Jouy (fabric patterned with 18th century picnickers, popular in the 80s)

ankle-biter trousers for 7/8 trousers Times May 9 09 Ankle biters are children. Did you mean "ankle skimmer"?

raddled for riddled "You know, the famous Lipizzaner horses are all now raddled with syphilis." A.A. Gill, Sunday Times May 09 (over-rouged/pierced through and through)

wretch for retch "It makes me wretch." Tanya Gold Guardian April 23 09) (miserable character/dry heave)

indigent for indigenous Robert Crampton in the Times is writing about his visit to Qatar (25 February, 2009:" makes sound competitive sense for the indigent men to try to keep the indigent women under wraps. I wonder if the large number of single men in the industrialising towns of Victorian England, their womenfolk still in the countryside, explains the similar views (all that draping piano legs in doilies) held by our own forebears." He means indigenous (native). Indigent means poor. (And piano-leg concealment was a slur on the Victorians made up by Mark Twain. Some Victorians felt it was ungenteel to refer to trousers by name. Other Victorians sent them up by inventing more and more arcane ways of referring to trousers, such as Bifurcated Garments, Understandings or Inexpressibles.)

dips his hat for tips his hat: Zoe Williams, Times April 14 09 (You tip your hat – ie touch the brim, or pull it down slightly – as a sign of respect.)

brush up to for brush up against: (Times, 28 March, 2009 – “brush up to the thrones” backstage in a royal residence.) You brush up against somebody when you fall into their company or bump into them.

dowse for douse: (waves dowse the seafront) Sunday Times Mar 29 09 (find by waving twig/soak)

ballantine for galantine: (Zoe Williams, Guardian, 20 March, 2009 – R.M. Ballantyne, writer of boys’ adventure stories/deboned stuffed meat)

chord for note: "Despite striking a rather farcical, antiquated chord with her Salon presentation, Beckham…" (Times, 17 February, 2009 – If you strike a chord, you set up sympathetic vibrations in someone else's mind.)

terrier for chamois: "Haslam’s terrier-like ascent of British society…" (Times, 28 February, 2009 – terriers grip, chamois climb mountains)


a bridled hysteria for unbridled hysteria: Unbridled hysteria is uncontrollable, like a horse without a bridle. An unbrindled cat wouldn't be stripy.

a criteria for a criterion: Criterion is the singular, criteria the plural. (standard for measuring quality)

a phenomena for a phenomenon: Phenomenon is the singular, phenomena the plural.

abject lesson for object lesson: (G April 16, 2004) (pitiful/Victorian lesson that took an object such as a pin as a starting point)

abjure for adjure: “abjuring a workman ... to please put his feet back on the platform ...” Lionel Shriver G Mar 21 06 (renounce/command)

Achilles heal for Achilles heel (cure/calcaneum)

ad nauseum for ad nauseam (to the point of nausea)

adage for cliché: An adage isn’t just a hackneyed collection of words, it also points a moral, eg "Curiosity killed the cat."

aesthetic for ascetic: (aesthetic form of Xtianity (in cave in desert) Guardian Jan 19 08) (concerned with beauty/self-denying)

affectionado, officionado for aficionado

aghast for amazed: If you’re aghast you’re horrified as well as amazed.

all matter of junk for all manner of

allegations for allegiances (assertion/loyalty)

allusion top/sleeves for illusion

alma martyr for alma mater (someone who dies for their faith/mother)

amaranthine for rich: For some people the most exciting thing about YouTube ... is not so much the posterity it gives to such an amaranthine parade of "clips" of varying quality uploaded by the public. No, it's the transient availability, the brief sightings before deletion of some special delights. Observer Dec 17 2006 It means “undying” or “red”. And by "posterity" I think they mean "endurance" or "extended life".

ameture/amature for amateur

amicable for amenable or comfortable: “But now the new factories were providing goods and implements by which people could live more amicable lives.” (Web) (friendly)

amphibious member/membra virile: (Lucy Mangan in the Guardian July 05 talking about Crazy Frog) An amphibious member would work in both air and water; membra virile implies he’s got two or more. A frog's willy is an "amphibian member" and any animal's is a "membrum virile".

an attempt to blacken X’s achievements (You blacken somebody’s name, or reputation. You could disparage, denigrate or deny their achievements.)

anachronism for solecism, incongruity: (Countryman October 2001) (An anachronism is incongruously modern, like a Biblical epic extra wearing a watch; a solecism is a social bloomer or grammatical howler; an incongruity sticks out like a tarantula on a slice of angel food cake.)

ancestor for descendant and vice versa

incense for cense: "And now Cardinal Ratzinger incenses the altar." (He censed the altar – if he incensed it he’d make it angry.)

anglesizing for anglicizing (no such word/make more English)

annunciation for enunciation (announcement/way of speaking)

anthropomorphic for anthropocentric Simon Hoggart Feb 23 08 Guardian (manshaped/man-centred)

antidisestablishmentarianism for disestablishmentarianism: Guardian December 19, 2007 (Disestablishmentarians want the Church of England cease to be the country's official ("established") church/antidisestablishmentarians want to keep it.)

antidotal for anecdotal ( (no such word/hearsay)

antisocial for unsociable (bad for society/unfriendly)

aphrodistra for aspidistra

apocryphal for anachronistic (legendary/incongruously modern)

apotheosis for epitome (ascension to godhead/exemplar)

arcata for arcana (IMDB) (no such word/magical knowledge)

area for era (and are people who write “end of an error” on office leaving cards all joking?) (section of ground/time period)

argue for dispute: Few can argue that Oscar Wilde was one of the greatest wits of the 19th century. (Times October 15, 2007) (propose/deny)

ariel for arial: "ariel ground plans" Guardian April 5, 2006 (character in Shakespeare's The Tempest/seen from the air)

ascendancy for ancestry: (during the Protestant ascendancy the Protestants were in control)

ascerbic for acerbic: (no such word/acid as in acid remark)

ascorbic for acerbic or ascetic: (ascorbic acid is Vitamin C/acid/self-denying)

assay for essay: “Some of the characters assayed by the Little Britain team...” G February 3, 2005 (test/try out)

auspices for auguries: (the auspices seemed promising) (protection/omens)

avant garde for blasé: (forward looking/careless)

avatar for doyen: "avatars of the French nouveau roman" Guardian Aug 6 05 (incarnations/top in their field)

facetious for fatuous: “Australia, a county reborn in terms of facetious Hollywood cliches” (Peter Bradshaw, Guardian, 22 January, 2008 – jocular/foolish)

faïence for fiance ( – kind of ceramic/person you’re engaged to)

faun for fawn (colour) Guardian (half man, half goat/Bambi coloured)

fiends in human clothing for fiends in human shape/form (letter to Daily Mail, 14 September, 2004. If the fiends just donned human clothing they’d be easily spotted.)

flare for flair (uprush of flame, breadth of skirt or trouserleg/skill, charisma)

flay for flail "His arms flay helplessly around..." Guardian, July 14, 2008) (remove skin/wave loosely like flail, two sticks jointed with leather used to bash grain to separate kernel from chaff)

florescent (flowering), fluourescent , flourescant for fluorescent (shining)

flushed out for fleshed out ( (flush spider from drainpipe/add flesh to skeleton)

foible for foil “A bespectacled bookworm teen who was the constant foible for his classmates.” (quirk/antidote, someone to bounce ideas off)

foment for encourage “Getting more personal computers into homes in Latin America is a key part of fomenting e-commerce and Internet use in the region...” Reuters Feb 4 00) (to foment is to apply a poultice soaked in hot water – metaphorically to stir up, encourage the wrong things in the wrong way)

fop for sop “ if I were any more likely to use this ridiculous fop to world environmental destruction the second time around.” Guardian, Sept 13 2000 (affected drip/bit of bread soaked in wine)

free rain for free rein ( (precipitation/device for controlling horse)

free reign for free rein (period of monarch’s power/device for controlling horse)

caché for cachet (Magonia)

callow for cynical Times Nov 29 07 (gauche/skeptical)

cart branch for carte blanche (Web) (A carte blanche – white card – is a get-out-of-jail-free card, a free pass)

cash cow for money pit, fatted calf for cash cow: Suggs in the Times Oct 21 08 (a cash cow just goes on producing cash/a money pit absorbs all the cash you throw into it/you feast on the fatted calf when you return home after being given up for lost)

cashews for cachous (violet cashews, Nigel Slater Observer Food Monthly July 23 06) (nuts/sweets)

catalyst for catharsis (substance that enables a chemical reaction while remaining unchanged/release of emotion)

caveat for cavil (caution/quibble)

chaff for grate: To praise the love of friends as the greatest kind chaffs against this message, even if it doesn’t contradict it. Julian Baggini, G August 11, 2005 (chaff is banter, to chaff is to tease, to chafe is to rub)

chaffing at the bit for champing (chewing) or chafing (rubbing) (Chaffing means teasing.)

chiqué for chic (clothes store website)

clad for clothe: middle classes still like to "clad" their children in sailor suits Times July 25 07 (You clad a building in concrete panels etc, you clothe a person.)

clapperboard home for clapboard (Guardian) (A clapperboard marks the start of a film scene; clapboard houses are built out of overlapping planks. And if you're really grand you pronounce it "clabberd".)

climactic for climatic (“Sometimes, the death toll that resulted from climactic changes was so severe that the mammoth suffered from depression.” Stuart Jeffries, G Mar 18 00) (climactic is from climax, climatic from climate) And does he mean the mammoth was miserable, or that mammoth numbers fell?

clime for landscape “riding away over this dusty clime”, Guardian Dec 21 2001 (clime means climate)

coda for codex (an unwritten coda of increasingly complex rules Obs Jan 20 08) (appendix to piece of music/body of law)

coeval for equal, G Dec 2 2000 (happening at the same time/the same)

coiffeur for coiffure (the Times) (hairdresser/hairdo)

cold tar soap for Coal Tar Soap (Angela Rippon in Saga magazine)

collaborate for corroborate (get together to produce something/produce evidence that bears out story)

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