Wordly Wisdom

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Sometimes a writer reaches for a word and picks the one right next to it. Unfortunately it means something completely different. A lot of trouble is caused by trying to be classy. If you don't know Latin or Greek, stick to English words. Somebody said of the American novelist Theodore Dreiser: "Given a choice of words, he always picked the most expensive-looking." Here are a few solecisms to avoid (and this is just the As):
a criteria for a criterion Criterion is the singular, criteria the plural - it's a standard for measuring quality.
a phenomena for a phenomenon Phenomenon is the singular, phenomena the plural. One phenomenon, two phenomena.
abject lesson for object lesson Guardian April 16, 2004 Abject means pitiful; an object lesson was a 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 Guardian Mar 21 06 Abjure means renounce; adjure means command.
Achilles heal for Achilles heel The Greek hero Achilles had one vulnerable spot: his heel. (It's a long story.) To defeat him you had to know where to attack.
ad nauseum for ad nauseam It means "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". Shakespeare referred to his feline as "the poor cat in the adage".
aegis for function Thereby negating their original aegis as social housing. Guardian newsblog July 2 08 In Greek mythology, an aegis was something like a badge of authority.
aesthetic for ascetic The Guardian Jan. 19 08 referred to people carrying on an "aesthetic form of Christianity" in a cave in the desert. Aesthetic means concerned with beauty; if you're ascetic you're self-denying; and something acetic is acid. And that's before we've got onto acerbic and ascorbic.
affectionado or officionado for aficionado There's no such word as affectionado (or officionado), but the person who coined it was on the right lines. Aficionado is Spanish for fan.
aghast for amazed If you're aghast you're horrified as well as amazed.
all matter of junk for all manner of All manner of means every kind of.
allegations for allegiances Allegations are assertions; allegiance means loyalty.
all-rounded for all-round “An all-rounded winner!” Creative labs

allusion top, sleeves for illusion
An allusion is a reference; illusion sleeves are see-through.
alma martyr for alma mater A martyr gives his life for a cause; your alma mater is your old university, or "nourishing mother" in Latin.
amaranthine for rich     For some people the most exciting thing about YouTube, the internet digital video repository, is not so much the posterity it gives to such an amaranthine parade of "clips" of varying quality uploaded by the public. Observer Dec 17 2006 Amaranthine means "undying" or "red".
ambient for atmospheric     What an ambient shot! Ambient means surrounding. If you say something’s “atmospheric” you mean it calls up ideas and feelings of mystery or menace or the uncanny.
ameture for amateur An amateur is the opposite of a professional. Confusion with armature (metal skeleton of a clay sculpture)?
amicable for amenable or perhaps comfortable But now the new factories were providing goods and implements by which people could live more amicable lives." (Web) Amicable means friendly; amenable means willing.
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 or incongruity 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 sore thumb.
ancestor for descendant and vice versa Your grandparents' grandparents are your ancestors; you are their descendant.
and cetera for etcetera Et cetera is Latin for "and the rest", so this is not exactly wrong.
androgenous for androgynous An androgynous person is a boyish (andro) girl (gyn) or girlish boy.
annunciation for enunciation When the Angel Gabriel gave Mary the news that she would give birth to Jesus, that was the Annunciation; enunciation is a way of speaking. BBC announcers enunciate carefully.
anthropomorphic for anthropocentric Simon Hoggart Feb 23 08 Guardian Something anthropomorphic is human (anthropos) shaped (morphe); anthropocentric means man-centred.
antidisestablishmentarianism for disestablishmentarianism Disestablishmentarians think the Church of England should cease to be "established" as the UK's official religion; antidisestablishmentarians take the opposite view.
antidotal for anecdotal If you take poison, you need an antidote; an anecdote is an often-repeated, unfunny and probably untrue story.
antisocial for unsociable Antisocial acts are bad for society; an unsociable person is unfriendly.
aperçu for anachronism Even the contemporary apercus don't seem to matter that much, Derek Malcolm on Marie Antoinette The Evening Standard Oct 06 An aperçu is an observation; an anachronism is incongruously modern.
aphrodistra for aspidistra Aspidistras are indoor plants popular circa 1900.
apocryphal for anachronistic An apocryphal tale is a legend; an anachronism is incongruously modern.
apocryphal for apocalyptic "Hell now seems funnier and less apocryphal." Time Out Dec 03 An apocryphal tale is a legend; an apocalyptic event is catastrophic.
apotheosis for epitome Someone who undergoes an apotheosis ascends to heaven as a god; an epitome is an exemplar.
arcata for arcana Arcana are magical secrets. Madame Arcati is a character in Noel Coward's play Blithe Spirit.
argue for dispute Few can argue that Oscar Wilde was one of the greatest wits of the 19th century. Times October 15, 2007 If you argue something, you propose it; but if you dispute it, you deny it.
ariel for aerial "ariel ground plans" Guardian April 5, 2006 An ariel is a metal spike you receive radio programmes through; aerial means of or from the air.
arrayed for displayed Euclid and Pythagoras are arrayed with the Virgin on the West Front of Chartres. Guardian 28 Feb 09 If you're gorgeously arrayed you're grandly dressed; if you display something you put it on show.
ascendancy for ancestry If a group is in the ascendancy it's in control; your ancestry are your forebears (parents, grandparents, great-grandparents).
ascerbic or ascorbic for acerbic An acerbic remark is unpleasant. It's from a Latin word meaning bitter. Ascorbic acid is Vitamin C.
assay for essay Some of the characters assayed by the Little Britain team...  Gordon Brown has been assayed by a surprising number of actors G May 12 10 Guardian February 3, 2005 You assay yellow metal to see if it's gold; if you essay something you're attempting it.
astronaughts for astronauts (Web)
asunder for off The second they appear they are instantly torn asunder. Julie Bindel Guardian Aug 10 (she means “torn off”)

auspices for auguries
The auspices seemed promising). Auspices are protection; auguries are omens. It all goes back to the ancient Greeks. Why not stick to the present?
avant garde for blasé After a few days, we got quite avant garde about it! Avant garde art is forward-looking; blasé means careless.
avatar for doyen "Avatars of the French nouveau roman" Guardian Aug 6 05 An avatar is an incarnation; doyens are top in their field.
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