Tuesday, April 24, 2007

From Bill Bryson's Dictionary of Troublesome Words 3 (Commonplace Book)

I continue my uber-nerdy selections from Bryson's little book. Be sure not to correct anyone on these out loud; you will get beaten up, perhaps deservedly so.

Dangling Modifier. Oh, so many examples of this one, everyone has a favorite. I will go with one Judd Winick mentions in his fantastic Frumpy the Clown strip: "There was a farmer had a dog and Bingo was his name-o". One of the little kids in the strip remarks "Is Bingo the name of the dog or the farmer? Grammatically, it could go either way..."

"Deprecate" means to disapprove of strongly; it has been so long confused with "depreciate" (to lower the value, as in "self-depreciate") most dictionaries accept the additional meaning.

"Diagnosis, prognosis." To make a diagnosis is to identify and define a problem; a prognosis is a projection of the course and likely outcome of a problem. Diagnosis applies only to conditions and not to people; people cannot be diagnosed with cancer, but their cancer can be diagnosed.

"Differ, diverge". To diverge is to move farther apart so it should not be used to indicate a difference of opinion unless that difference is widening.

"Different" can often be deleted without loss, as in a sentence like "He has written five different books on poetry."

"Disassemble, dissemble." Unlike dissociate and disassociate, these two words mean different things: the first means too take apart, the second to conceal.

"Discomfit, discomfort." Discomfit has nothing in common with discomfort besides sound; it means to rout, overwhelm or completely disconcert.

"Empathy, sympathy." The first denotes deep emotional understanding of the feeling or problems of another. The second is more general. The first is for serious misfortunes, the second can apply to any small annoyance.

4 comments:

Jason Powell said...

""Discomfit, discomfort." Discomfit has nothing in common with discomfort besides sound; it means to rout, overwhelm or completely disconcert."

Does this one strike anyone else as really funny?

sara d. reiss said...

because I'm a nit-picker: it was the dad asking frumpy which was which in the "bingo" strip.

sorry...

neilshyminsky said...

Jason: Yeah, I also found the definition somewhat diconcerting. :)

Geoff Klock said...

Sara: thanks.

Jason, Neil: someone explain the joke to me.