Common bugbears of modern online writing

Inspired by Ambrose Bierce’s endlessly entertaining and edifying Write it Right, I’ve collected a few errors (or so I see them) frequently found amid the flood of writing that makes its way online every day. They are not all incorrect per se, but as Bierce pointed out, over and above being merely correct, writing may also be unambiguous โ€” and we should always strive to make it so.

This list is and will remain forever a work in progress.

ahold: ‘Get ahold of’ may roll off the tongue in person but this colloquialism has no real reason to exist in writing outside of dialogue.

disinterested: Used almost exclusively now to mean ‘uninterested’ in place of that perfectly good word. But disinterested refers to having no ‘interest’ in a financial or personal sense, as in a conflict of interest. One who is disinterested in (or more properly, from) something has nothing to gain or lose in connection with it, so their actions can be considered to have no ulterior motive. Similarly one cannot ‘have a disinterest in’ something โ€” say they have no interest, or a lack of interest.

begs the question: The battle by pedants (including myself in the past) to rescue this saying from corruption is long lost and was misguided to begin with, considering ‘beg the question’ is at best an ambiguously worded paraphrase of a logical fallacy seldom found in ordinary discourse. If something raises or prompts a question, or conversely if it moots or presupposes its answer, say that. Avoid the original construction entirely and avoid the possibility of confusion, derailment, and unwanted commentary.

comma pause: Commas are punctuation that formally divide a sentence, and should not be used in expository writing to dictate its pacing or emphasis. For instance: ‘The CEO said that, “We will look into it” ‘ or ‘She decided in that moment, that he would look into it.’ If the effect is important the sentence can usually be rearranged to achieve it and remain grammar.

six-feet: Variations of this type of hyphenation abound: ‘the screen is eight-inches wide,’ ‘she was five-feet, seven-inches tall.’ When dimensions are being enumerated, no hyphen is necessary. It is primarily when they act as an adjective that they must be united for clarity: ‘the board was two feet wide’ vs ‘a two-foot board.’

add on, add in, continue on, etc.: The verb alone is usually sufficient.

in between: As above, the ‘in’ may be omitted with advantage.

in order to: ‘In order’ is superfluous in most cases and can be omitted. Variants of this may perform work under other circumstances, however, such as ‘as a means to.’

irregardless: No such word.

overexaggerate: There is no appropriate degree of exaggeration, so one cannot ‘over’-exaggerate. Possibly created by cross-pollination with ‘overstatement.’

that said, all that said, with that said, etc.: Consider a segue without an ill-defined ‘that.’

CEO’s, OKR’s: No need to add an apostrophe when pluralizing an acronym. Pluralizing individual letters (rolling your r’s) has an apostrophe so it can be parsed correctly, as the letters are both lowercase.

at the end of the day, when all is said and done: Concluding paragraphs are rarely improved by this kind of preamble, which when spoken usually signifies that the speaker is trying to think of what to say next.

nonplussed: It’s not clear why this is sometimes used to mean unbothered (perhaps a similarity with ‘unfussed’), but it means the opposite: puzzled or distracted.

bemused: Often used as a synonym for amused, bemused means bewildered. It may border on pedantry, but using an unambiguous word will prevent bemusement on the part of the reader.

enormity: The word wanted is almost without exception ‘enormousness.’ Enormity has to do with being counter to the norm and implies great evil, not great size. Again, as the other word already exists and has no other meaning, there is no need to substitute this ambiguous and questionable one.

transpire: As Bierce pointed out a century ago, transpire means for something to breathe through or come to light, not simply occur. It seems to be used exclusively to sound erudite, but misuse of a word can have the opposite effect.

systemic/systematic: Frequently substituted for one another, the former means something related to or pervading a system; The latter means something accomplished using a system. A condition may be systemic, but a doctor diagnoses it systematically.

lusty/lustful: ‘Lusty’ means hearty or vivacious, ‘lustful’ means full of sexual desire. A sailor may be both simultaneously but that does not mean they are synonymous. Unfortunately, repeated misuse has resulted in each having its meaning listed among the other’s. This is hardly a ‘common’ mistake but the New Yorker used ‘lustiness’ instead of ‘lustfulness’ to describe rabbits and declined to correct it when I pointed that out โ€” may their decision live in infamy.

anyways, forwards, towards: No need for an ‘s’ on the end of these.

timely: Implies particularly good or propitious timing, not simply simultaneity or contemporaneity.

without further ado: This is itself ado. Ado without it. ยป