By Santo (Joe) Aurelio
There are 15 words and phrases that are so confusing that I cannot and will not use them. The principal dictionary consulted was/is Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th ed. Each of the following words and phrases has at least two different meanings – and therein lies the problem:
- biannual (twice a year and every two years)
- biennial (twice a year and every two years)
- bimonthly (twice a month and every two months)
- biweekly (twice a week and once every two weeks)
- cleave (to cut and to adhere)
- duplicitous (deceiving and duplicative)
- fey (visionary, crazy, precious, and doomed)
- fulsome (lavish, abundant, attractive, and disgusting)
- inflammable (flammable and inflammable, both of which mean easily excited, ignitable, and burnable)
- lucked out (did well and did not do well)
- remit (to pay, to not pay, to defer, to cancel, to send back; [other meanings]); and sign off (to agree, to not agree, to end [as, a message]) N.B.- The phrase “sign on” can still be used since most people understand it to mean “to agree.”
- cash back – with reference to sales pitches, especially automobile pitches. A price reduction is meant — not actually giving cash back to the purchaser.
- 110 percent — as, He’s such a hard worker, he gives 110 percent. Impossible. The most one can give of anything is 100 percent. E.g., the most energy a person can expend is all (that is, 100 percent) of his or her energy.
- throwaway or (see 15)
- disposable camera — Cameras are not thrown away or disposed of by picture takers. Cameras are returned to processors for processing. Later, the processors send those cameras to plants (as, Kodak) for the recycling of most parts of those same cameras.
Frankly, I have no problem not using the above 15 words and phrases. If I want to say, “twice a month,” I say those exact words. And if I want to say, “every two months,” I say those exact words. I never want whatever I say or write to be misunderstood. Therefore, I do not use words and phrases that have two or more meanings. So, in conclusion, as they say in court, I now rest my case.
Want to hear more of Aurelio’s take on language? Sign up for his live webinar, “Homonyms & Pseudohomonyms, The Nemesis of Reporters, Part 5,” set for April 17 at 6:30 p.m. ET. You can even earn CEUs for attending.
Dr. Santo “Joe” Aurelio, FAPR, RDR, a former official court reporter for 40 years, earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Harvard University, and a doctorate in education from Boston University. Dr. Aurelio is a visiting professor at colleges in the Boston area, where he teaches a variety of subjects, but mainly English grammar and medicolegal terminology.