Speaking of Which: Confounding Confusions

14 Sep,2012

By Vidya Heble


Using the right word can ensure your brief or release or presentation is accurate; using the wrong word that sounds right could mean the difference between “enter” and “inter”. If there are words you are unsure of, and which you need to look up more than once, add them to a list which you can easily refer to, when you need clarification. There’s nothing wrong in admitting that one needs to look something up – I do it all the time. With gadgets at our fingertips, accessing a dictionary or a thesaurus or even an encyclopaedia has never been easier. When in doubt, look it up. Meanwhile, here’s the kickstart to your list.


convince / persuade

One convinces a person that something is true but persuades a person to do something. “Pointing out that I was overworked, my friends persuaded [not convinced] me to take a vacation. Now that I’m relaxing on the beach with my book, I am convinced [not persuaded] that they were right.”

Tip: Don’t use “convince to”, it should be “persuade to” and “convince that”.


historic / historical

Historic means important in history. Historical refers broadly to what has gone before, in history (whether important or not).

Eg: “The historic meeting between heads of state was held in the historical Great Hall.”


beside / besides

Beside is a preposition that means next to: “Stand here beside me.” Besides is an adverb that means also: “Besides, I need to tell you about the new products my company offers.”


alternately / alternatively

Alternately means one after another, taking turns. Eg: “We carried the bag alternately on the walk home.” Alternatively means on the other hand; one or the other, as an alternative. Eg: “You could buy a cooking range, or alternatively you could just go for an induction cooktop.”


discreet / discrete

Discrete is not a fancy way of spelling discreet. Discreet means careful, prudent, modest. Eg: “Her discreet handling of the case earned her accolades.” Discrete means separate or individually distinct. Eg: “Each section operated discretely.”


farther / further

Farther refers to distance, further refers to degree or extent.

Eg: “We can go farther with more petrol, but discussing it any further is pointless.”


literally / virtually / practically

These are not words you can freely interchange.

Literally means that it actually happened. Eg: “When I heard the knock on the door I literally fell out of my chair.”

Virtually is an imagined happening. Eg: “She virtually drooled over the shoes in the shop window.”

Practically is hand in hand with virtually, and almost there. Eg: “He practically spat the words out at her.”


flaunt / flout

To flaunt means to show off in a brazen way. Eg: “They missed no opportunity to flaunt their win.” To flout means to show scorn or contempt for something, usually a law. Eg: “The older boy was a misfit and often flouted the rules.”


leach / leech

leach – to empty, drain, or remove

leech – a bloodsucking worm or to a person who preys on or clings to another; also a verb meaning to (archaic, unless people still practice this somewhere in the world) bleed with leeches or (current) act as a parasite


imply / infer

Imply means to suggest indirectly, while infer is to draw a conclusion.

Eg: I imply that your work is below standard. You infer that I hate your guts.


‘Speaking of which’ is a new fortnighly series that (or should we say ‘which’?) will, among other things, talk of common errors people in our media make, and how good usage can make for better communication. Written by Vidya Heble, Deputy Editor, MxMIndia and Managing Editor, The Blue Pencil Company, a content editing and writing start-up. Vidya has over two decades of experience in advertising, print and online media… in India, the Gulf and Singapore. She has also edited books, written speeches and communiques and recently took a sabbatical to set up and execute the online avatar of a popular show.


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