Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Naked or Nude (Confusing Words Part 7 of 12)

Only recently have I considered the difference between naked and nude and realized I ignorantly used the two words incorrectly. Naked, aside from the obvious meaning of wearing no clothes, can also be a metaphor that a person is vulnerable or unprotected. Or it can refer to something plain and unadorned, such as the clich├ęd term naked truth.

Nude means simply unclothed. When artists paint a human figure, we refer to them as nudes.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Historic or Historical (Confusing Words Part 6 of 12)

This is one of the places where I still pause to think which word to use. Historic refers to history-making or momentous. I now remind myself with this sentence: The historic meeting of Livingstone and Stanley made news across the world.

An historic event is always historical—that is, significant or history-making such as landing on the moon or the first time the American president visited Argentina. Historical means relating to the past, but the occurrence doesn't hold significance. The museum displayed historical clothing from the colonial period.

If I link historic and important together,
I'll probably get it right.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Irony of Irony (Confusing Words Part 5 of 12)

For the past few years I kept hearing people use irony in such a way that I began to wonder if I knew what the word meant. Today the word seems to mean unusual. But that's not the true definition. Irony refers to words that convey meanings opposite of their literal meaning.

Here are two examples of irony.

1. When I told my C-grade classmate that I had received an A, his ironic reply was, "How nice." (He didn't mean it was nice.)

2. "This is a magnificent view," Joan's mother said ironically, as she stared out the window at the neighbor's brick wall.

Here's a typical use of the word as I hear it today: "How ironic that I can't go to Bible study tomorrow night," the seminary student said, "because I have to prepare for a test on the New Testament." This statement passes for what some call irony because it's unusual. There's no intended opposite meaning.

Words are my tools, and I try to use words properly, 
even if others don't.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Notoriety (Confusing Words Part 4 of 12)

Here's a word that's taken on the opposite of its long-held meaning. The word referred to being famous or well-known, but it had a negative connotation. Today, the word seems to mean famous or well-known without any negative meaning intended.

Although I know that's the common misuse, I'll stick with famous for the positive and notorious for the negative. Even if you choose to use notoriety, please understand that some people may think you're making a negative statement.

Others may ignore differences in meaning, 
but I'm a professional.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Helpmeet and Helpmate (Confusing Words Part 3 of 12)

To my surprise, I still find people using the term helpmeet, or sometimes they change it to helpmate, thinking that was the intended meaning. The term helpmeet came about because Bible readers misunderstand the meaning of those two words in the KJV of Genesis 2:20: "But for Adam there was not found an help meet for him." The word meet in those days meant fitted for or suitable. Until Eve, Adam had no companion suitable as a mate.

Words change in meaning.
I stay up with those changes.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Honorarium (Confusing Words Part 2 of 12)

Many people speak of an honorarium, which is another euphemism for fee or payment. An honorarium is a reward for an act for which custom or tact forbids setting a fixed amount. That is, the giver offers something for which there is no legal or moral obligation.

However, usage has extended the meaning to mean payment for service. Don't we constantly hear of giving an honorarium for the keynote speaker at a writers conference? Today, the term usually means they take up an offering or they have a set fee.

One professional speaker said, "When they use the word honorarium, they usually mean they'll pay me less than my standard fee."

Fee is a good word;
I'm not afraid to use it when I discuss money.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Euphemisms (Confusing Words Part 1 of 12)

Euphemisms are softened and inoffensive words or phrases to cover or suggest something unpleasant. Although we still use them today, many of them are so ingrained we hardly realize them as euphemisms.

For example, after my wife died, it amazed me how few people used words like death. Instead they talked of her passing, going to heaven, or departed. One friend actually said, "She has shuffled off this mortal coil" (probably referring to the words of Hamlet).

Perhaps my friends thought they were protecting me with their euphemistic terms, but, for me, Shirley died. Their word choice spoke to me about their inability to speak directly.

Euphemisms have a long history. At one time, no one in polite company referred to a leg. It was always a limb. Two years ago, an older woman told me she had been shopping and bought unmentionables. I think she meant underwear.

I'm for the direct approach. If we rely on euphemisms, it implies that we're not able to deal with reality. Instead, we find nice, inoffensive ways to say things with which we're not comfortable.

As a writer, 
I like to say what I mean clearly.