What’s in a Word: a Writer’s Rant

My post today comes from my personal website and is part of my THIS IS… series, which I started just to share random things that I find cool or interesting or annoying or special in some way.

This is one of the annoying varietals. It has to do with the rampant and chronic misuse of certain words. In other words, this is… a pet peeve so omnipresent I may name it.

In fact, I shall name it Peevezilla.

The Peevezilla of the day is…

This is the word you use when you are talking about what someone believes. As in, “Universal love for one’s fellow creatures is a tenet of Hinduism.”

…is the word you use when you’re talking about a place someone lives because when they live there, they are a tenant. As in, “Harry Potter was a tenant of the Gryfindor dormitory at Hogwarts.”

A person is not a tenet.

A belief or principle is not a tenant, unless, of course, you’re trying to make a poetic statement about the place it holds in someone’s mind or heart.

End of lesson in English 101.

Carry on.



What’s in a Word: a Writer’s Rant — 7 Comments

  1. Not the same, but: Dominant is not the same as dominate. Among other differences, the former is either an adjective or a noun; the latter is a verb.

    This really started bothering me when I taught genetics; no matter how often I spelled the word “dominant” on the board/worksheets/tests, about half the students would use the word “dominate” on their tests or papers. Alas, that experience sensitized me so that now I see this mistake in daily life as well as on student papers.

  2. Native speakers of English make mistakes that seem weird to us second language learners. Especially those with a neoLatin mother tongue.

  3. Ditto to both Damiana and Katherine Kerr.

    I think it might be because native speakers learn a lot of their words from hearing them, long before they see them written. Depending on the local accent, and the weird ways in which spelling and pronounciation differ in English, words that are clearly different on paper may sound the same, or similar enough to be mistaken if one knows only one of the two.
    Add in local dialect and incorrect usage by people around them, and you’ve got a right mess.

    People who learn English as a second language mostly from reading will see a lot of words (usually in the right context and grammatically correct sentences) long before hearing them. We won’t make these mistakes so much, though our accents may be peculiar. I know mine is, I made an American lady laugh by calling the contents of her gaming satchel an inVENtory instead of an INventory.

    • It’s a standard feature of some languages, like Dutch.
      That doesn’t mean it’s right to do so in English, of course, but I guess people from such other-language backgrounds might not think twice about applying their familiar wordforming/grammar-rules in the new setting. Then their surroundings copy that.

      Different styles of punctuation are my personal tripwire when code-switching ?, but grammar and word-forming rules that have *subtle* differences are next-highest on the list of mistakes to make without noticing.

  4. The two word-pairs I’ve seen slide past copy-editors most often lately are horde/hoard and troop/troupe. The former is usually obvious and amusing, involving references to hoards of peasants or hordes of gold (as Willy Wonka would say, “Strike that! Reverse it!”).

    The latter is trickier, because both words refer to groups of people – but a troupe almost always involves performers of some kind (actors, jugglers, perhaps musicians), whereas a troop usually consists of soldiers (or sometimes Girl Scouts, etc.; this is a little more flexible).

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