Rein in the reign of misused words

March 26, 2018 11:00

by Christopher Jones-Cruise, RTDNA contributor

Journalsese: clichés, misnomers, and redundant phrases, all making their way too often into news scripts. So are misused words, which often won’t be caught by spell check.

For those of you who are contributing to websites, here is a list of misused words recently gathered by a broadcast news editor:

Defuse/Diffuse: To defuse something is to literally remove the fuse or figuratively to make something less explosive, i.e. to defuse a tense situation. To diffuse something is to dissipate it or spread it around. Usually the word we want is defuse.

Persuade/Convince: You convince somebody of something or you persuade them to do something. You do not convince somebody to do something. Put another way, convincing is winning an argument while persuasion is pushing someone to take an action.

Comprise/Compose: Do not use the word “of” with comprise. A group is composed of individuals or it comprises individuals. Also, several individuals can comprise a group (but they cannot compose a group). For serious grammarians, the comprise/compose debate is much written about here, here, here and here.

If/whether: Use “if” to mean “in the event that” as in this example: “China will protest if other governments change their policies.” Use whether to describe a choice: “Afghanistan is still debating whether it will attend the conference.”

Fewer/Less: Use “fewer than” before a number, as in “Fewer than 100 people were killed in the bomb strike.” But: “The damage was less than expected.”

Ensure/Insure: Okay, insure is gaining acceptance in all uses, but ensure is still a better word for making certain of something. Insure is best used when we are talking about insurance.

Their/They’re: Everyone knows the difference between these two, but we use “their” instead of “they’re” too often. Just be aware and think about it.

Rein/Reign: The expression to “rein in” something, like a renegade agency or the national debt, is a metaphor based on bringing a horse to a halt. It has nothing to do with what kings and queens do (i.e. reign).

Queue/Cue: A queue is a line of people or things, like people lining up at a soup kitchen or a stack of stories waiting to be edited. A cue is a signal to an actor or a billiards implement.

Lectern/Podium: Find a good explanation of this common error here