Journalism 101: Use the right damned word…

Nothing will make your journalism professor get twitchier faster than if you let spellcheck guide your writing. Just because something is spelled correctly, it doesn’t always stand to reason that you are using the right word.

Being wrong isn’t fun, but having to deal with people who are repeatedly wrong isn’t a picnic, either. After constantly running into a series “close enough” errors, I asked the hivemind for the most irritating gaffes they see on a regular basis, most of which drive them to ask, “Why can’t you use the right damned word?” Below are several areas in which folks noted errors that made them want to pour scotch in their coffee and bleach in their eyes:


The “there’s a difference between ‘astigmatism’ and ‘a stigmata'” category:

alot: Not a damned word

a lot: Either a whole bunch of something or a plot of land. “Jimmy was poor as a child and thus ate a lot of Ramen as he grew up.” OR “I want to build a house on a lot near Omro.”

allot: Give a portion of something. “The moderator will allot equal amounts of time to each debater.”


aight: Not a damned word

alright: Still not really a damned word.

all right: Everything is now all right, because you spelled it right.


apart: Not part of, or not together. “My parents got divorced, so they now live apart from one another.”

a part: A component of something. “My carburetor is a part of my Mustang.”


decent: Something that is passably functional. “Ellen did a decent job on her paper, but there’s no way she’s getting an A.”

descent: Falling or moving downward or a historic lineage. “The Millers found out they were of Hungarian descent.” OR “The descent from the mountain took the climbers longer than expected.”


definitely: Absolute certainty: “I definitely want to see the Milwaukee Bucks win an NBA title this year.”

defiantly: In opposition to with anger: “The toddler defiantly flung himself to the floor and screamed that he didn’t want to leave Chuck E. Cheese.”


diffuse: Spread out over a large area. “If you light that scented candle, it will diffuse the smell of coconuts and pine throughout the house.”

defuse: Remove danger or literally remove a fuse. “Archer had to get his turtle neck and wire cutters to defuse the bomb.”


eager: Excited in a good way; wanting to do something. “I was eager to get the Mustang out of storage so I could start driving it around town.”

anxious: Excited in a bad way; worried and fearful; experiencing dread. “I was anxious about getting the Mustang out of storage because I was worried it wouldn’t start.”


everyone: All of the people in a group; synonymous with everybody. “Everyone will have to fill out a new TPS form before the payroll department will issue checks.”

every one: Each individual person involved; followed by “of” usually: “I would like to thank every one of you who volunteered for my campaign.”

everybody: Synonymous with everyone; refers to all the people: “Everybody who wants to play cards tonight should be here by 9 p.m.”

every body: Each individual physical body. “Every body we found on the streets during the zombie apocalypse was missing at least one limb.”


fazes: Bothers or creates problems for someone. “Nothing ever fazes Corey Kluber when he’s pitching in the playoffs.”

phases: Created or completed in stages or components. “The office park was constructed in three phases over a five-year period.”


lose: The opposite of win. “When I play checkers with my father, I always lose.”

loose: The opposite of tight. “The knot in Zoe’s shoelaces was loose and quickly came undone.”


then: Something that happens next. “I drank six tequila slammers and then threw up.”

than: A word of comparison. “I like butter pecan better frozen custard than vanilla ice cream.”


The “This is really awkward if you screw it up” category:

incompetence: An inability to adequately complete certain tasks. “He claimed to be a great plumber, but after he flooded three houses, his incompetence was clear.”

incontinence: Lack of control over one’s bladder or bowels. “A stroke caused her incontinence, which forced her to wear adult diapers for the rest of her life.”


bowl: A food dish or a game involving pins, an alley and a ball. “Jimmy will always eat a bowl of cereal when he wants a snack.” OR “My father is the only person I know to bowl a perfect game.”

bowel: The intestine or the deepest part of something: “Jimmy ate too much cereal and had some bowel discomfort.”


prostate: A gland between a man’s bladder and penis. “Carl’s father was diagnosed with prostate cancer.”

prostrate: To lay flat. “The peasant will prostrate himself before the king to show his respect.”


jive: A form of slang that sounds amazing when Mrs. Cleaver from “Leave it to Beaver” lets it roll.


jibe: In accordance with what one believes. “Bill said the moon was made of green cheese, but that doesn’t jibe with what I learned in my astronomy class.”



And then there are phrases that are just wrong:

All of the sudden: You mean “all of a sudden.”

Another words: You mean “in other words.”

Could of: You mean “could have.”

For all intensive purposes: You mean “for all intents and purposes.”

Thrown to the ground or Fell to the ground: This only works when that person or thing is outside. Otherwise, it’s “fell to the floor” or “thrown to the floor.”

I could care less: You mean you “couldn’t care less” as in you literally could not give less of a damn about something, regardless of how hard you tried.

And finally, you don’t get French benefits (like a nice beret or some good onion soup). You get fringe benefits, otherwise known as “perks” or “lulus” according the AP style book.


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