Naturally, we don’t want to use words that make no sense in our writing, not unless we’re deliberately writing nonsense, that is, or unless a character frequently confuses words for some reason. In THE ACCIDENTAL TOURIST, by Anne Tyler, we see writer Macon Leary talking with Dog Trainer/Personal/ Shopper/Survivor of All Life Throws at Her, Muriel Pritchett. She’s telling him about her one-time job working at a business which offered copy services to its customers.
“I’ve never been so disinterested.”
Macon stirred and said, “Don’t you mean uninterested?”
“Exactly. Wouldn’t you be? Copies of letters, copies of exams, copies of articles on how to shop for a mortgage…”
Muriel doesn’t get it, and that’s okay—she isn’t a writer, she is a flawed character (like all of us), and a life giver (which all of us should strive to be). We should also strive, as writers, not to feel the need to correct every mispronounced word or wrongly used word that is uttered by non-writers. It’s not nice to make other people feel stupid just because they used the wrong word in a sentence. Eventually people will stop talking to us altogether..I mean all together…I mean…Well, you know what I mean. We wouldn’t want non-writers to make us feel stupid because we don’t understand pi, or because we can’t change a tire, or because we have no idea where to start when it comes to making a really good loaf of bread. Parents, teachers, and editors are exempt from this dictum as long as they can correct nicely. All that said, and for our own reference as writers, let’s look at…
Some words commonly confused with each other* and misused:
assent ([noun]. agreement or approval)
ascent ([verb]. the act of rising, climbing up)
censure pronounced: sen-shur ([v]. to criticize strongly)
censor pronounced: sen-sor /sen-sur ([v]. to ban, as in banning books or films, etc, or, [n]. a person who bans)
disinterested ([adj]. impartial)
uninterested ([adj]. not interested)
tortuous ([adj]. full of twists and turns; complex)
torturous ([adj]. full of pain and suffering)
story ([n]. a tale or an account)
storey ([n]. level of building or floor of building, ex. Phyllis lived on the fourth storey of the Broadbent Apartments.) NOTE: many spell-checkers will correct your spelling if you write the word “storey” to mean “floor of building.” Don’t pay attention. They’re wrong. Or, at least, you are not wrong. Language does change. At one point, recipe books gave you the method on how to make this or that flavor of “cooky.” Now we write “cookie.” Everyone knows what you mean regardless of the way you spell it, but your spell-checker will attempt a scholastic slap-down on you if you use “cooky” these days. The word “storey” causes the same still acceptable. So, if you want to write “she lived on the fourth storey” instead of “she lived on the fourth floor,” write it with confidence.
stationary ([adj]. not moving)
stationery ([n]. writing paper, greeting cards, on which people used pens or pencils to write letters to their friends, family, and business associates before email came on the scene).
all together (all in one place, as in “We’re going to the movies all together.”)
altogether (on the whole, as in “No, Sylvia, that’s not a little bit wrong, that’s wrong altogether.”)
And a big one now in these days of the Cyber World:
sight (the ability to see)
site ([n]. a location, as in “Bradley can’t come to the phone. He’s at the building site, looking over the architect’s plans.” This word is also the one you use to designate “pages” on the Internet, as in, “Please go to my web site and you will be able to look up my store inventory and place your order online.”)
For more words that we commonly mistake for each other, go to OxfordDictionaries.com or perform your own web search.
posted by Jean Foster Akin