Some English words are often used in ways that are contentious among writers on usage and prescriptive commentators. The contentious usages are especially common in spoken English. While in some circles, the usages below may make the speaker sound uneducated or illiterate, in other circles the more standard or more traditional usage may make the speaker sound stilted or pretentious.
Note on dictionary references:
- AHD4 = American Heritage Dictionary, fourth edition.
- CHAMBERS = Chambers 21st Century Dictionary (2006)
- COD11 = Concise Oxford English Dictionary, 11th edition.
- COED = Compact Oxford English Dictionary at AskOxford.com
- ENCARTA = Encarta World English Dictionary online
- FOWLER = The New Fowler's Modern English Usage Revised Third Edition (1998)
- M-W = Merriam-Webster Online.
- OED = Oxford English Dictionary online
- RH = Random House Unabridged Dictionary, 2006, at Dictionary.com
— Some prescriptivists have argued that this word should
not be used in the sense of "to annoy" or "to oppress", but only to
mean "to make worse". However, this proscription against "to annoy"
is not rooted in history. According to AHDI, the "annoy" usage
occurs in English as far back as the 17th century; furthermore, in
Latin, from which the word was borrowed, both meanings were
Sixty-eight percent of AHD4's Usage Panel approves of its use in
"It's the endless wait for luggage that aggravates me the most
about air travel."http://www.bartleby.com/61/8/A0140800.html
M-W mentions that while aggravate in the sense of "to rouse to
displeasure or anger by usually persistent and often petty goading"
has been around since the 17th century, disapproval of that usage
only appeared around 1870.http://www.webster.com/dictionary/aggravate
RH states in its usage note under aggravate that "The two most
common senses of aggravate are 'to make worse' and 'to annoy or
exasperate.' Both senses first appeared in the early 17th century
at almost the same time; the corresponding two senses of the noun
aggravation also appeared then. Both senses of aggravate and
aggravation have been standard since then."http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/aggravate
CHAMBERS cites this usage as "colloquial" and that it "is well
established, especially in spoken English, although it is sometimes
regarded as incorrect."http://www.chambersharrap.co.uk/chambers/features/chref/chref.py/main?query=aggravate&title=21st&sourceid=Mozilla-search*
- Disputed usage: It's the endless wait for luggage that aggravates me the most about air travel.
- Undisputed usage: Being hit on the head by a falling brick aggravated my already painful headache.
- ain't — originally a contraction of "am not", this word is widely used as a replacement for "aren't", "isn't", "haven't" and "hasn't" as well. While ain't has existed in the English language for a very long time, and it is a common, normal word in many dialects in both North America and the British Isles, it is not a part of standard English, and use in formal writing is not recommended by most usage commentators. Its unself-conscious use in speech may tend to mark the speaker as uneducated. Nevertheless, ain't is used by educated speakers and writers for deliberate effect, what Oxford American Dictionary describes as "tongue-in-cheek" or "reverse snobbery", and what Merriam-Webster Collegiate calls "emphatic effect" or "a consistently informal style". http://www.m-w.com/dictionary/ain't
- alibi — Some prescriptivists argue this cannot be used in the non-legal sense of "an explanation or excuse to avoid blame or justify action." AHD4 notes that this usage was acceptable to "almost half"http://www.bartleby.com/61/90/A0199000.html of the Usage Panel, while most opposed the word's use as a verb. M-W mentions no usage problems, listing the disputed meaning second to its legal sense without comment. OED cites the non-legal noun and verb usages as colloquial and "orig[inally] U.S."http://dictionary.oed.com/cgi/entry/50005635. CHAMBERS deems this use "colloquial".http://www.chambersharrap.co.uk/chambers/features/chref/chref.py/main?query=alibi&title=21st
- alright — An alternative to "all right" that some consider illiterate but others allow. RH says that it probably arose in analogy with other similar word, such as altogether and already; it does concede the use in writing as "informal", and that all right "is used in more formal, edited writing."http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/alright AHD4 flags alright as "nonstandard", http://www.bartleby.com/61/72/A0227200.html and comments that this unacceptance (compared to altogether etc.) is "peculiar", and may be due to its relative recentness (altogether and already date back to the Middle Ages, alright only a little over a century).http://www.bartleby.com/61/77/A0217700.html CHAMBERS refers to varying levels of formality of all right, deeming alright to be more casual; it recommends the use of all right "especially in writing for readers who are precise about the use of language."http://www.chambersharrap.co.uk/chambers/features/chref/chref.py/main?title=21st&query=alright
- also — Some prescriptivists contend this word should not be used to begin a sentence. AHD4 says "63 percent of the Usage Panel found acceptable the example The warranty covers all power-train components. Also, participating dealers back their work with a free lifetime service guarantee."http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/also See also and & but, below.
- alternate — In British English this adjective means, according to OED and other sources, switching between two options or similar. It does not mean the same as alternative (see next), which OED specifically marks as an American meaning of alternate. In international English it is therefore thought better to observe the British distinction: then the meanings of alternative and alternate will be clear to everyone. (See meanings given at M-W; the same applies to the adverbs alternately and alternatively.)
- alternative — Some prescriptivists argue that alternative should be used only when the number of choices involved is exactly two. While AHD4 allows "the word's longstanding use to mean 'one of a number of things from which only one can be chosen' and the acceptance of this usage by many language critics", it goes on to state that only 49% of its Usage panel approves of its use as in "Of the three alternatives, the first is the least distasteful."http://www.bartleby.com/61/21/A0232100.html Neither M-Whttp://dictionary.reference.com/search?q=recent nor RHhttp://dictionary.reference.com/browse/alternative mentions any such restriction to a choice of two. CHAMBERS qualifies its definition as referring to "strictly speaking, two, but often used of more than two, possibilities".http://www.chambersharrap.co.uk/chambers/features/chref/chref.py/main?title=21st&query=alternative
- a.m./p.m. — These are Latin abbreviations for ante meridiem ("before noon") and post meridiem ("after noon"), adverbial phrases. Some prescriptivists argue that they therefore should not be used in English as nouns meaning "morning" and "afternoon", but this ignores ordinary nominalization features of English. AHD4 lists adjectival usage with "an A.M. appointment"http://dictionary.reference.com/search?q=A.M. and "a P.M. appointment."http://dictionary.reference.com/search?q=p.m. RH gives "Shall we meet Saturday a.m.?"http://dictionary.reference.com/search?q=A.M. without comment; it gives no corresponding example at p.m., so that usage can only be extrapolated.
— The traditionalist view is that between should only be
used when there are only two objects for comparison; and among or
amongst should be used for more than two objects. Most style guides
and dictionaries do not support this advice, saying that between
can be used to refer to something that is in the time, space or
interval that separates more than two items. M-W says that the idea
that between can be used only of two items is "persistent but
and AHD4 calls it a "widely repeated but unjustified
The OED says "In all senses, between has been, from its earliest
appearance, extended to more than two"http://dictionary.oed.com/cgi/entry/50021275.
CHAMBERS says "It is acceptable to use between with reference to
more than two people or things", although does state that among may
be more appropriate in some circumstances.http://www.chambersharrap.co.uk/chambers/features/chref/chref.py/main?xref=21C03758&title=21st&query=between
- Undisputed usage: I parked my car between the two telegraph poles.
- Undisputed usage: You'll find my brain between my ears.
- Disputed usage: The duck swam between the reeds.
- Disputed usage: They searched the area between the river, the farmhouse, and the woods.
- Undisputed usage: We shared the money evenly amongst the three of us.
- Disputed usage: We shared the money between Tom, Dick, and me.
- Undisputed usage: My house was built among the gum trees.
— Some prescriptivists argue amount should not be
substituted for number. They recommend the use of number if the
thing referred to is countable and amount only if it is
uncountable. While RH acknowledges the "traditional distinction
between amount and number, it mentions that "[a]lthough objected
to, the use of amount instead of number with countable nouns occurs
in both speech and writing, especially when the noun can be
considered as a unit or group (the amount of people present; the
amount of weapons) or when it refers to money (the amount of
dollars paid; the amount of pennies in the till).http://dictionary.reference.com/search?q=amount
(see also less)
- Disputed usage: I was amazed by the amount of people who visited my website.
- Undisputed usage: The number of people in the lift must not exceed 10.
- Undisputed usage: I was unimpressed by the amount of water consumed by the elephant.
- and — Some prescriptivists argue that sentences should not begin with the word and on the argument that as a conjunction it should only join clauses within a sentence. AHD4 states that this stricture "has been ridiculed by grammarians for decades, and ... ignored by writers from Shakespeare to Joyce Carol Oates."http://www.bartleby.com/61/73/A0287300.html RH states "Both and and but, and to a lesser extent or and so, are common as transitional words at the beginnings of sentences in all types of speech and writing'; it goes on to suggest that opposition to this usage "...probably stems from the overuse of such sentences by inexperienced writers."http://dictionary.reference.com/search?q=and ENCARTA opines that said opposition comes from "too literal an understanding of the 'joining' function of conjunctions", and states that any overuse is a matter of poor style, not grammatical correctness.http://encarta.msn.com/encnet/features/dictionary/DictionaryResults.aspx?refid=1861585484 COED calls the usage "quite acceptable".http://www.askoxford.com/concise_oed/and?view=uk Many verses of the King James Bible begin with and, as does William Blake's poem And did those feet in ancient time (a.k.a. Jerusalem). Fowler's Modern English Usage defends this use of "and". CHAMBERS states that "Although it is sometimes regarded as poor style, it is not ungrammatical to begin a sentence with and."http://www.chambersharrap.co.uk/chambers/features/chref/chref.py/main?query=and&title=21st See also also, above, and but, below.
- anxious — Some prescriptivists argue that this word should only be used in the sense of "worried" or "worrisome" (compare "anxiety"), but it has been used in the sense of eager for "over 250 years"; 52% of AHD4's Usage Panel accepts its use in the sentence "We are anxious to see the new show of contemporary sculpture at the museum." It also suggests that the use of anxious to mean eager may be mild hyperbole, as the use of dying in the sentence "I'm dying to see your new baby."http://www.bartleby.com/64/C003/032.html RH states bluntly that "its use in the sense of 'eager'...is fully standard."http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/anxious M-W defines anxious as "3 : ardently or earnestly wishing / synonym see EAGER"http://www.webster.com/cgi-bin/dictionary?va=anxious CHAMBERS gives "3 very eager • anxious to do well."http://www.chambersharrap.co.uk/chambers/features/chref/chref.py/main?query=anxious&title=21st
— Barbaric applies to the culture of barbarians and can be positive
("barbaric splendor"); barbarous applies to the behavior of
barbarians and is negative ("barbarous cruelty"). This is standard
English usage. However, M-W equates the third meaning of "barbaric"
with the third of "barbarous", that is, "mercilessly harsh or
COD11 and CHAMBERS list "savagely cruel" and "cruel and brutal;
excessively harsh or vicious",http://www.chambersharrap.co.uk/chambers/features/chref/chref.py/main?title=21st&query=barbaric
respectively, as the first meanings for "barbaric". Only AHD4
disallows this usage, and without comment.http://www.bartleby.com/61/89/B0068900.html
- Undisputed. The environment of the venue was barbaric.
- Undisputed. Terrorism is barbarous.
- Disputed. Capital punishment is a disgusting, barbaric measure.
- but — Some prescriptivists argue that if and should not be used to begin sentences, then neither should but. These words are both conjunctions, so they believe that they should be used only to link clauses within a sentence. AHD4 states that "it may be used to begin a sentence at all levels of style."http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/but.
- can and May — Some prescriptivists argue that can refers to possibility and may refers to permissions, and insist on maintaining this distinction, although usage of can to refer to permission is pervasive in spoken and very frequent in written English. M-W notes: "Can and may are most frequently interchangeable in senses denoting possibility; because the possibility of one's doing something may depend on another's acquiescence, they have also become interchangeable in the sense denoting permission. The use of can to ask or grant permission has been common since the 19th century and is well established, although some commentators feel may is more appropriate in formal contexts. May is relatively rare in negative constructions (mayn't is not common); cannot and can't are usual in such contexts."http://www.webster.com/cgi-bin/dictionary?sourceid=Mozilla-search&va=can AHD4 echoes this sentiment of formality, noting that only 21% of the Usage Panel accepted can in the example "Can I take another week to submit the application?"http://dictionary.reference.com/search?q=can. For its part, OED labels the use of can for may as "colloquial".http://dictionary.oed.com/cgi/entry/50032196
— Comprise means "to consist of" or "to include". A third
meaning, "to compose or constitute" is sometimes attacked by usage
writers. However, it is supported as sense 3 along with a usage
note in M-Whttp://www.m-w.com/dictionary/comprise,
and although AHD4 notes the usage as a "usage problem", its usage
note says, "Our surveys show that opposition to this usage is
abating. In the 1960s, 53 percent of the Usage Panel found this
usage unacceptable; in 1996, only 35 percent objected."http://www.bartleby.com/61/72/C0537200.html
- Undisputed usage: The English Wikipedia comprises more than 1 million articles.
- Disputed usage: The English Wikipedia is comprised of more than 1 million articles.
- Disputed usage: More than 1 million articles comprise the English Wikipedia.
- Disputed usage: Diatoms comprise more than 70% of all phytoplankton.
- Undisputed usage: Diatoms constitute more than 70% of all phytoplankton.
- deprecate — The original meaning in English is "deplore" or "express disapproval of" (the Latin from which the word derives means "pray to avert evil", suggesting that some event would be a calamity). The word is now also used to mean "play down", "belittle" or "devalue", a shift that some prescriptivists disapprove of, as it suggests the word is being confused with the similar word depreciate; in fact, AHD4 states that in this sense deprecate has almost completely supplanted depreciate, however a majority of the dictionary's Usage Panel approved this sense.http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/deprecate Its use with the approximate meaning to declare obsolete in computer jargon is also sometimes condemned.
— Cochrane (2004) states that to "diagnose [someone] with
a disease" is an incorrect usage of the verb diagnose, which takes
the physician as subject and a disease as object (e.g. "to diagnose
cancer"). In American English, according to AHD4http://www.bartleby.com/61/40/D0194000.html
the sense of "diagnose [someone] with a disease" is listed without
comment or tag; however, for its part, RH does not list such a
usage, with or without comment. For British English, COD11 offers
"identify the medical condition of (someone): she was diagnosed as
having epilepsy (2004); this usage, however, did not appear in
editions as recently as the 1990s. CHAMBERS does not offer this
sense at all.http://www.chambersharrap.co.uk/chambers/features/chref/chref.py/main?query=diagnose&title=21st
- Disputed usage: Mr. Smith was diagnosed with lurgi.
- Undisputed usage: The doctor diagnosed lurgi.
Standard usage in both England and America is "different from" (on
the analogy of "to differ from"). In England this competes with
"different to" (coined on the analogy of "similar to"). In America
it competes with "different than" (coined on the analogy of "other
than"). "Different to" is also found in Australian English.
- Undisputed usage: The American pronunciation of English is different from the British.
- Disputed usage: The American pronunciation of English is different to the British.
- Disputed usage: The American pronunciation of English is different than the British.
Standard usage is as a word for "unbiased", but some have also
rendered it synonymous with "uninterested" or "apathetic".
- Undisputed usage: As their mutual best friend, I tried to remain disinterested in their argument so as not to anger either.
- Disputed usage: The key to attracting a member of the opposite sex is to balance between giving attention to him or her and appearing disinterested.
— Frequently used as a synonym for "enormousness" or
"immensity", but traditionally means "extreme wickedness".
According to AHD4, this distinction has not always occurred
historically, but is now supported by 59% of the dictionary's Usage
COD11 states that enormity as a synonym for hugeness "is now
broadly accepted as standard English." Although CHAMBERS lists
"immenseness or vastness" as a meaning, it says it "should not be
used" in that sense, commenting that it is encountered often
because the word enormousness is "awkward"; it recommends using
instead another word, such as hugeness, greatness, etc.http://www.chambersharrap.co.uk/chambers/features/chref/chref.py/main?query=enormity&title=21st
- Disputed usage: The enormity of the elephant astounded me.
- Traditional usage: The enormity of Stalin's purges astounds me.
- fortuitously — Used by some interchangeably with fortunately, strictly speaking fortuitousness is a reference to an occurrence depending on chance. M-W notes that use of the word in sense of "fortunate" has been in standard use for at least 70 years and notes that the sense of "coming or happening by a lucky chance" is virtually unnoticed by usage critics.http://www.webster.com/dictionary/fortuitous
— Gender is often used as a euphemism for sex in the sense
of the biological or social quality, male and female. It is never
used to refer to sexual intercourse.
- Gender traditionally refers to grammatical gender, a feature in the grammar of a number of different languages. Some prescriptivists argue that its use as a euphemism for sex is to be avoided as a genteelism; Fowler (p. 211) refers to it as "either as a jocularity...or a blunder."
- Others note that some writers use sex and gender in different but related senses, using sex to refer to biological characteristics and gender to refer to social roles and expectations based on sex. Those who use gender in this fashion frequently take an expansive view of the effects of social expectations on sex roles, and diminish the role of biology to purely physical characteristics. Those who use gender as a euphemism for sex may confuse readers who draw this distinction, or mislead readers by giving the impression that the writer has assumed or endorsed these beliefs. See gender identity, gender role
- The distinction is further confused by technical theatre and computer jargon, which refer to electrical connectors as having a male plug with pins inserted into a female socket. This use clearly refers to physical qualities of the connectors and not their social identities. See: gender changer
- hoi polloi — The question surrounding hoi polloi is whether it is appropriate to use the article the preceding the phrase; it arises because hoi is the Greek word for "the" in the phrase and classical purists complain that adding the makes the phrase redundant: "the the common people". Foreign phrases borrowed into English are often reanalyzed as single grammatical units, requiring an English article in appropriate contexts. AHD4 says "The Arabic element al- means 'the', and appears in English nouns such as alcohol and alchemy. Thus, since no one would consider a phrase such as the alcohol to be redundant, criticizing the hoi polloi on similar grounds seems pedantic."http://dictionary.reference.com/search?q=hoi+polloi
— Some prescriptivists argue this word should not be used
as an expression of confidence in an outcome; however, M-W classes
hopefully with other words such as interestingly, frankly, and
unfortunately (which are unremarkably used in a similar way) as
describes this usage as "entirely standard"http://www.webster.com/dictionary/hopefully.
AHD4, however, notes that opposition to this usage by their Usage
Panels has grown from 56% to 73%, despite support for similar
disjuncts (such as 60% support for the use of mercifully in
"Mercifully, the game ended before the opponents could add another
touchdown to the lopsided score"). AHD4 opines that this opposition
is not to the use of these adverbs in general, but that this use of
hopefully has become a "shibboleth".http://dictionary.reference.com/search?q=hopefully
OED lists this usage without any "colloquial" or other label, other
than to say "Avoided by many writers."http://dictionary.oed.com/cgi/entry/50046234
See also the discussion of hopefully as a dangling
modifier. One investigation in modern corpora on Language Log
revealed that outside fiction, where it still represents 40% of all
uses (the other qualifying primarily speech and gazes), disjunct
uses account for the vast majority (over 90%) of all uses of the
- Disputed usage: Hopefully I'll get that scholarship!
- Undisputed usage: The prisoner thought hopefully about the prospect for escape when he realized the guards accidentally left his cell unlocked.
— Some prescriptivists argue that less should not be
substituted for fewer. M-W
notes "The traditional view is that less applies to matters of
degree, value, or amount and modifies collective nouns, mass nouns,
or nouns denoting an abstract whole while fewer applies to matters
of number and modifies plural nouns. Less has been used to modify
plural nouns since the days of King Alfred and the usage, though
roundly decried, appears to be increasing. Less is more likely than
fewer to modify plural nouns when distances, sums of money, and a
few fixed phrases are involved <less than 100 miles>
<an investment of less than $2000> <in 25
words or less> and as likely as fewer to modify periods of
time <in less (or fewer) than four hours>"http://dictionary.oed.com/cgi/entry/50046234
- Disputed usage: This lane 12 items or less.
- Undisputed usage: We had fewer players on the team this season.
- Undisputed usage: There is less water in the tank now.
- like and
— Some prescriptivists object to the use of like as a
it is rather a preposition and that only
"as" would be appropriate in this circumstance. M-W, however, cites
likes use as a conjunction as standard since the 14th century, and
opines that opposition to it is "perhaps more heated than rational"
(see M-W's entry "like [7,
conjunction]"). AHD4 says "Writers since Chaucer's time have
used like as a conjunction, but 19th-century and 20th-century
critics have been so vehement in their condemnations of this usage
that a writer who uses the construction in formal style risks being
accused of illiteracy or worse", and recommends using as in formal
speech and writing.http://dictionary.reference.com/search?q=like
OED does not tag it as colloquial or nonstandard, but notes, "Used
as conj[unction]: = 'like as', as. Now generally condemned as
vulgar or slovenly, though examples may be found in many recent
writers of standing."http://dictionary.oed.com/cgi/entry/50133220
CHAMBERS lists the conjunctive use as "colloquial".http://www.chambersharrap.co.uk/chambers/features/chref/chref.py/main?query=like&title=21st&sourceid=Mozilla-search
- Undisputed usage. He is an American as am I.
- Undisputed usage. He is an American like me.
- Undisputed usage. It looks as if this play will be a flop.
- Undisputed usage. This play looks like a flop.
- Disputed usage. He is an American like I am.
- Disputed usage. It looks like this play will be a flop.
— Some prescriptivists argue literally should not be used
as a mere emphatic,
unless the thing to which it refers is actually true. It is used to
disambiguate a possible metaphorical interpretation of a phrase.
M-W does not condemn the second use, which means "in effect" or
"virtually", but says "the use is pure hyperbole intended to gain
emphasis, but it often appears in contexts where no additional
emphasis is necessary".http://www.webster.com/dictionary/literally
- Disputed usage: The party literally went with a bang. (No, it did not, unless there was an actual explosion.)
- Undisputed usage: I literally ran more than 25 miles today. I ran a marathon.
— The use of loan as a verb meaning "to give out a loan"
is disputed, with lend being preferred for the verb form. AHD4
flatly states "[t]he verb loan is well established in American
usage and cannot be considered incorrect"http://dictionary.reference.com/search?q=loan;
M-W states "...loan is entirely standard as a verb".http://www.webster.com/dictionary/loan.
RH says "Sometimes mistakenly identified as an Americanism, loan as
a verb meaning "to lend" has been used in English for nearly 800
years"; it further states that objections to this use "are
CHAMBERS defines the verb loan as "to lend (especially
OED merely states "Now chiefly U.S.",http://dictionary.oed.com/cgi/entry/50134603
and COD11 includes the meaning without tag or comment.
- Undisputed usage. I lent him some money.
- Undisputed usage. Fill out the paperwork for a loan.
- Disputed usage. I loaned him some money.
- may and
— "May" should only be used where the event in question
is still possible, not for something that was possible at one stage
in a historical narrative, or for a hypothetical possibility
contrary to fact.
- Undisputed usage: My brother may have gone to China last week (perhaps he did)
- Disputed usage: If he had not been prevented, my brother may have gone to China last week (but he didn't)
- Undisputed usage: If he had not been prevented, my brother might have gone to China last week.
- Disputed usage: He thought it may be true (but it wasn't)
- Undisputed usage: He thought it might be true.
— Some prescriptivists state that as a transitive verb in the
context "to come together by chance or arrangement", meet (as in
meet (someone)) does not require a preposition between verb and
object; the phrase meet with (someone) is deemed incorrect.
CHAMBERS flags this usage "US";http://www.chambersharrap.co.uk/chambers/features/chref/chref.py/main?query=meet+&title=21st&sourceid=Mozilla-search
RH allows it in the sense of "to join, as for conference or
instruction: I met with her an hour a day until we solved the
On the other hand, none of M-W, AHD4, or COD11 entertains this
usage. NOTE: In the sense of fulfilling prerequisites or criteria
(We met with the entry requirements), or that of encountering (Our
suggestions may meet with opposition; the soldiers met with
machine-gun fire), the verb phrase meet with is not in dispute.
- Disputed usage: I will meet with you tonight.
- Undisputed usage: I will meet you tonight.
— Traditionally, momentarily means "for a moment", but
its use to mean "in a moment" is sometimes disputed. M-Whttp://www.webster.com/dictionary/momentarily
give this latter usage a standard entry without comment, while
tag it "N.Amer." AHD4 has a usage note indicating that 59% of their
Usage Panel deems this usage "unacceptable".http://www.bartleby.com/61/82/M0378200.html
- Disputed usage: Your feature presentation will begin momentarily.
- Undisputed usage: The flash from the atom bomb momentarily lit up the night sky.
— Traditionally nauseous means "causing nausea" (synonymous with
"nauseating"); it is commonly used now as a synonym for "queasy,"
that is, having the feeling of nausea. AHD4 notes the traditional
view, stating that 72% of the Usage Panel preferred nauseated over
nauseous to mean "affected with nausea"; however, 88% of that same
panel preferred nauseating to nauseous to mean "causing nausea"; in
other words, a maximum of only 28% prefers nauseous in either case.
It also states that in common usage, nauseous is synonymous with
nauseated, but deems this usage "incorrect".http://www.bartleby.com/61/32/N0033200.html
M-W, however, asserts that "[t]hose who insist that nauseous ... is
an error for nauseated are mistaken".http://www.webster.com/dictionary/nauseous
Both M-W and AHD4 accept that nauseous is supplanting nauseated for
"feeling nausea", and in turn being replaced by nauseating for
"causing nausea" in general usage; they only differ on the
correctness of the change. RH states "The two literal senses of
nauseous [...] appear in English at almost the same time in the
early 17th century, and both senses are in standard use at the
present time. Nauseous is more common than nauseated in the sense
'affected with nausea', despite recent objections by those who
imagine the sense to be new."http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/nauseous
For their part, CHAMBERS lists the sense of causing nausea first
and affected with nausea second,http://www.chambersharrap.co.uk/chambers/features/chref/chref.py/main?query=nauseous&title=21st
while COD11 gives the affliction first and causation second; both
dictionaries list the entries without comment. OED goes further,
tagging its "nauseated" usage as "Orig[inally] U.S.", but demoted
its "nauseating" usage to "literary". OED also notes that the
original (now obsolete) sense of the word in English was "inclined
to sickness or nausea; squeamish".http://dictionary.oed.com.rap.bibliocentre.ca/cgi/entry/00321686
Curiously, this oldest seventeenth-century meaning (inclined to
nausea), while distinct from the disputed twentieth-century usage
(afflicted by nausea), more closely resembles the latter than it
does the prescribed meaning (causing nausea).
- Undisputed usage: That smell is nauseous.
- Disputed usage: That smell is making me nauseous.
— Some prescriptivists argue not should not conclude a
sentence. Others note that such usage is old enough and has been
utilized by many of the best writers in the English language. OED
attributes this usage as far back as 1420, and cites examples by
Taylor Coleridge, George
Hardy, Ben Jonson,
Tynedale, John Wyclif,
Neither M-W nor AHD4 notes any proscriptions on usage.
- Disputed usage: I would think not.
- overly — FOWLER notes that some editors regard this as an "Americanism". The American source M-W's Webster's Dictionary of English Usage, 1989, eventually settles on accepting it, but has this to say: "Bache 1869 and Ayres 1881 succinctly insulted contemporaries who used this word, calling them vulgar and unschooled. Times have changed: modern critics merely insult the word itself. Follett 1966, for example, claims that overly is useless, superfluous, and unharmonious, and should be replaced by the prefix over-. Bryson 1984 adds that 'when this becomes overinelegant ... the alternative is to find another adverb [...]'." The prefix over- is safer, and accepted by all: "He seemed over-anxious." M-W, AHD4, and RH include the word without comment, and OED notes only "After the Old English period, rare (outside Scotland and North America) until the 20th cent."
- pleasantry originally means a joke or witticism. Now often used to mean polite conversation in general (as in the phrase "exchange of pleasantries").
— Traditionally, presently is held to mean "after a short
period of time" or "soon". It is also used in the sense "at the
present time" or "now", a usage which is disapproved of by many
prescriptivists. RH dates the sense of "now" back to the 15th
century—noting it is "in standard use in all varieties of
speech and writing in both Great Britain and the United
States"—and dates the appearance of the sense of "soon"
to the 16th century. It considers the modern objection to the older
sense "strange", and comments that the two senses are "rarely if
ever confused in actual practice. Presently meaning 'now' is most
often used with the present tense (The professor is presently on
sabbatical leave) and presently meaning 'soon' often with the
future tense (The supervisor will be back presently)."http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/presently
M-W mentions the same vintage for the sense of "now", and that "it
is not clear why it is objectionable."http://www.webster.com/dictionary/presently
AHD4 states that despite its use "nowadays in literate speech and
writing" that there is still " lingering prejudice against this
use". In the late 1980s, only 50% of the dictionary's Usage Panel
approved of the sentence General Walters is … presently the United
States Ambassador to the United Nations.http://www.bartleby.com/61/86/P0538600.html
COD11 lists both usages without comment; CHAMBERS merely flags the
sense of "now" as "N Amer, especially US".http://www.chambersharrap.co.uk/chambers/features/chref/chref.py/main?query=presently&title=21st
- Disputed usage: I am presently reading Wikipedia.
- Undisputed usage: I will be finished with that activity presently.
- refute — The traditional meaning of refute is "disprove" or "dispel with reasoned arguments". It is now often used as a synonym for "deny". The latter sense is listed without comment by M-Whttp://www.webster.com/dictionary/refute and AHD4http://www.bartleby.com/61/17/R0121700.html, while CHAMBERS tags it as colloquial.http://www.chambersharrap.co.uk/chambers/features/chref/chref.py/main?query=refute&title=21st COD11 states that "Traditionalists object to [the use of refute as deny], but it is now widely accepted in standard English." However, RH does not mention this use at all.http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/refute
- relatively — Literally meaning "compared to", some now use relatively to mean "moderately" or "somewhat." AHD4 does not list this usage at all;http://www.bartleby.com/61/67/R0136700.html M-W has apparently blended the two usages in one.http://www.webster.com/dictionary/relatively
- Scotch, Scots, and Scottish. Formerly, English people used
"Scotch" where Scottish people used "Scottish". The current
convention is as follows:
- "Scottish" for people
- "Scotch" for things (especially whisky)
- "Scots" for institutions (Scots law, Scots language)
— This means 'look for', but is used to mean 'try' or
'want'. Highfalutin, and criticised by Fowler in the entry "Formal
- Disputed usage: '...we did seek to resolve the Iraq crisis by peaceful means.... those who seek to emulate his legacy of murder.... the Conservatives seek to undermine that future...'.
- Undisputed usage: 'Seek and ye shall find.'
— Prescriptivists regard this as a plural pronoun, but
the word is now commonly used, especially in speech and informal
writing, as a non-gender-specific third-person singular
pronoun (which modern English otherwise lacks). The alternative
"he or she" can sound awkward, and the original use of "he" to
refer to any individual of unspecified gender is now mostly
obsolete. Another possibility is the use of "one" in replacement of
"they", which is common but awkward.
- Disputed usage: A person is rude if they show no respect for their hosts.
- Undisputed usage: One is rude if one shows no respect for one's hosts.
- Undisputed usage: Many people have told me that they are satisfied with their food.
- thusly — Thusly (AHD4 suggests) was originally coined by educated writers to make fun of uneducated persons trying to sound genteel.http://www.bartleby.com/61/79/T0197900.html Thusly, however, diffused into popular usage. Some people accept it as an adverb in its own right, while others believe thus should be used in all cases. The word "thusly" appears with no associated usage notes in M-W;http://www.webster.com/dictionary/thusly COD11 tags it as "informal", with the entry thus tagged as "literary or formal". CHAMBERS does not list the word at all, and it is unknown in British usage.http://www.chambersharrap.co.uk/chambers/features/chref/chref.py/main?query=thusly&title=21st
- whilst and while— Penguin Working Words recommends while only, and notes that whilst is old-fashioned. Cambridge Guide to English Usage and M-W's Webster's Guide to English Usage comment on its regional character, and note that it is rare in American usage. It is therefore safer to use only while, in international English. (See the article While for further sources deprecating the use of whilst, and cautioning about uses of while.)
— Some prescriptivists argue that "who" should
be used only as a subject pronoun, the corresponding object pronoun
Strictly speaking, using who instead of whom is substituting a
subjective pronoun for an objective pronoun and hence is the same
as using she instead of her (e.g., I talked to she today.). Most
people never use whom in spoken English and instead use who for all
cases. Those who use whom in everyday speech might recognize
substitution of who as substandard. FOWLER has an extensive entry
on who and whom including several quotes from major publications
where whom is used incorrectly.
- Undisputed usage: You are talking to whom?
- Disputed usage: You are talking to who?
- Undisputed usage: To whom are you talking?
- Disputed usage: To who are you talking?
- Disputed usage: ... far more hostile to Diana whom she believes betrayed the Prince of Wales—Independent Mag., 1993 (FOWLER)
- Undisputed usage: ... far more hostile to Diana who she believes betrayed the Prince of Wales
— This extension of who (see above) along with its object
form whomever is attended by the same uncertainties as who along
with whom, and is discussed in the same sources. (See the relevant
section at Who.)
- Undisputed usage: Give it to whoever wants it.
- Undisputed usage: Give it to whoever you think should have it.
- Undisputed usage: Give it to whomever you choose to give it to.
- Undisputed usage: Give it to whoever you choose to give it to.
- Disputed usage: Give it to whomever wants it.
- Disputed usage: Give it to whomever you think should have it.
- Cochrane, James (2004). Between You and I: A Little Book of Bad English. Napierville, Illinois: Sourcebooks. ISBN 1-4022-0331-4
- Concise Oxford English Dictionary, 11th edition (2004). Soanes, Catherine et al (eds). Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-860864-0
- Fowler, H.W. A Dictionary of Modern English Usage. Oxford University Press. Fourth U.S. Printing, 1950.