My mistake

Ah, the English language — problematic for a lot of native speakers. I found a website with a list of words that are commonly misused. The list was put together by Paul Brians, a professor of English at the University of Washington, now retired. He probably saw it all, the misuse and abuse of the English language. Wonder if he got hazardous duty pay for his work.

The website is Common Errors in English Usage. There’s also a book, in case you prefer a hardcopy to pore over. (Yes, I checked the website for “pore,” just to be sure.)

Surely, I thought, I will not come across too many words that I misuse. Well, I’m going through the list word by word (I’m in the D section) and there were a few surprises waiting for me.

Barbecue. Not “barbeque.” I knew B-B-Q and BBQ were casual shortcuts, but I did think the word was spelled with a “q” as in “barbeque.” Not so. Does living in Texas get me an exemption from anyone expecting me to have known this? No? Rats.

Chaise longue. This one made me laugh. It’s pronounced “shezz lohng” (hard “G” at the end), not “shaze lounge.” Who knew? I certainly didn’t. Those French, as the cliche goes, they have a different word for everything. Only we borrow some of their words and then mangle them. It’s a tradition, I’m pretty sure, the borrowing and the mangling.

Daylight Saving Time, not “Daylight Savings Time” (no “s” on “Savings”). If we get rid of Daylight Saving Time altogether, it will make a whole lot of people happy and let us get on with mangling other words and phrases more efficiently. We don’t care if it’s light out or not.

Defense and Offense. First, understand that there are two ways to spell these words: The UK way (defence, offence) and the US way (defense, offense). (Those English people, they have a different word for everything, just like the French.)

Second, there are two ways of pronouncing these words: the sports way, the non-sports way. The sports way has the accent on the first syllable: DEE-fence, OFF-fence. The non-sports way (for example, legal and military usage) has the accent on the second syllable. Considering how sports-crazy a lot of Texans are, I’m not sure hardly any of us have ever heard the non-sports pronunciation. And if anyone used the non-sports pronunciation, we probably had the TV turned up too loud with the game on and couldn’t hear them.

Desert and Dessert. “Desert” with one “s” refers to those sandy (one “s”), non-beach places. “Dessert” with “ss” is the addictively sweet stuff (“ss”) like strawberry shortcake (“ss”). I knew this one, ha! But I didn’t know that “just deserts” with one “s” is pronounced like “desserts” (with “ss”) but spelled with only one “s.” That one is sneaky!

Just one more for now: Dolly. You know, those metal thingies with wheels that you wish you had when moving refrigerators and tons of boxes? (And you want a sturdy one, not a wimpy one with dinky grocery-shopping cart wheels that are perwhacky and won’t behave.) Well, that is not a dolly, it’s a handcart or hand truck. A dolly is a flat doohickey with wheels that people lie on to scooch themselves under vehicles.

This is really too much. I’m going to name my handcart Dolly, just so I can keep calling it that.


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