For example, take the word drown. The past tense of drown is drowned. The process of becoming drowned is drowning.
Ladies and gentlemen, I do not care how far underwater you are: you are not drownding. Be careful—this mistake could cost you your life. An old "Far Side" cartoon showed a rescue plane flying over an island on which two deserted men had spelled out "HELF" in stones. As they flew by, the copilot said to the pilot, "Nah, that's not them. That says ‘helf'." You don't want someone to delay throwing you a life buoy when you cry that you are drownding.
The same person whom I heard use the word drownding used the phrase verse vice-a instead of vice versa. Alas, that person will probably not read this blog post, but those of you who do read it can save yourself embarrassment using the phrase correctly:
He said that snakes eat live mice, not vice versa. [Which is to say that in the relationship between snakes and little rodents, the snakes always win.]
Along with creating nonexistent words such as drownding, people sometimes use homonyms oddly. For example, a sign over an indoor pond in a restaurant said: "Please don't feed the coy fish." We wouldn't want to reward them for coquettishness.
A Writamins subscriber wrote to me about a headline in his local paper that read: "City Council Approves Emersion Program in Schools" Ouch! The word emersion means to emerge from water. Immersion means to plunge or dip into something, especially with regard to water. An immersion language program is one in which the teacher speaks the new language from the first lesson, thus immersing the students in the language. Perhaps the writer of that headline needed a little immersion training himself.
Remember: Your credibility is on the line when you write. Reread every email and document or have someone else read them for you. Make sure that you will not leave your reader drownding in linguistic abominations.
A Word GameWritamins reader Dave Larkey sent me the following challenge: What nine-letter word in the English language is still a word when each of the nine letters is removed one by one? I could not think of one. Fortunately, Dave sent me the answer:
remove the L, - STARTING
remove the T, - STARING
remove the A, - STRING
remove the R, - STING
remove the T, = SING
remove the G, = SIN
remove the S, = IN
remove the N, = I
Copyright 2011 Elizabeth Danziger Contact me at email@example.com with questions about writing or suggestions for future articles.