Will she be discreet?
These two words are pronounced identically and are commonly mistaken for each other.
DISCREET means circumspect, prudent, careful. If you are discreet, you will avoid gossiping or criticizing others. You try to avoid embarrassing others. Roger promised he would be discreet after his best friend told him he was thinking of divorcing his fourth wife.
DISCRETE means singular, unconnected, separate. Academy Awards are given in multiple discrete categories.
To my consternation, I have noticed that many people and advertising companies, perhaps the majority, omit a comma when a person’s or team’s name is in the sentence. I’ll add an X where commas belong in the sentences below. Pay particular attention to sentences that directly address a person.
Good for youX Henry!
NoX Sam, you are wrong about who started the argument.
Good morningX everyone.
In the last example, if you use the comma you are springing a surprise on Marlena. Without the comma, you are ordering someone to surprise Marlena as opposed to surprising someone else.
When someone near you sneezes, what do you say? In Josh Katz’s book, Speaking American, he explains regional differences. Approximately 73% of Americans respond with some form of “Bless you.” God may or may not be invoked. But in the upper Midwest, gesundheit, meaning health, is popular because many German-and Yiddish-speaking immigrants moved to that region over 100 years ago. Approximately 6% of people near a sneezer say nothing, with twice as many men as women not responding. (When I’m near a sneezer, I tend to hold my breath, hoping not to catch what the sneezer has. So I’m also likely not to say anything because I’m too busy not breathing.)
Adverbs are having their celebrity moment. The problem is that they are usually time and space wasters. How many times have you seen (or written) sentences containing the following?
Instead, use a verb that carries precise meaning; then you’ll have no need to add a superfluous adverb. If a television is blaring, no need to say that it’s blaring loudly. When someone shouts, it won’t be done quietly.
A friend’s young granddaughter was fond of starting most sentences with “actually.” When her grandma asked her what “actually” meant, Nicole gave it serious thought and finally answered, “Actually, I don’t know.”
I had no idea. Of course, I knew the phrase “the whole shebang,” meaning the totality of an entity. But I never knew a shebang was a specific thing until the other night when I was watching a documentary about a group of archeologists excavating the Civil War site of Ft. Lawton, in Georgia. Those archeologists had to spend some nights on the site and set up their individual shebangs (small and uncomfortable). A shebang is a rustic shelter or primitive hut. Did you know that? Neither did I until I watched this somewhat tedious documentary. But I learned something because I watched the whole shebang.
TRITE—Overused, worn out, lacking in originality
Just about anything can be trite: art, music, dance, food (think kale salads). But this blog is concerned with language, so that’s what we’ll focus on today. Read through these trite expressions and then vow to avoid them whenever possible. It will always be possible; just think of straightforward alternatives. You can do it.
- No sooner said than done
- By hook or by crook
- Busy as a bee
- A bolt from the blue
- Few and far between
- In this day and age
- Words fail me
- By leaps and bounds
- Better late than never
- A good time was had by all
- Breathed a sigh of relief
- From the ridiculous to the sublime
- It’s a small world
- Life and limb
- Sticks out like a sore thumb
- To all intents and purposes
- In the final analysis
In the final analysis, I hope you can see why it’s better to avoid these expressions.