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Headline for 29 of the Best of WRITE IT RIGHT: A LITTLE BLACKLIST OF LITERARY FAULTS BY AMBROSE BIERCE
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29 of the Best of WRITE IT RIGHT: A LITTLE BLACKLIST OF LITERARY FAULTS BY AMBROSE BIERCE

An always pithy, and often hilarious blacklist of literary faults by the American literary wit, satirist, and writer, Ambrose Bierce (June 24, 1842 – circa 1914).

1

Adopt.

Adopt.

"He adopted a disguise." One may adopt a child, or an opinion, but a disguise is assumed.

2

Aggravate for Irritate.

Aggravate for Irritate.

"He aggravated me by his insolence." To aggravate is to augment the disagreeableness of something already disagreeable, or the badness of something bad. But a person cannot be aggravated, even if disagreeable or bad.

3

Anticipate for Expect.

Anticipate for Expect.

"I anticipate trouble." To anticipate is to act on an expectation in a way to promote or forestall the event expected.

4

Anxious for Eager.

Anxious for Eager.

"I was anxious to go." Anxious should not be followed by an infinitive. Anxiety is contemplative; eagerness, alert for action.

5

At for By.

At for By.

"She was shocked at his conduct." This very common solecism is without excuse.

6

Avoid for Avert.

Avoid for Avert.

"By displaying a light the skipper avoided a collision." To avoid is to shun; the skipper could have avoided a collision only by getting out of the way.

7

Badly for Bad.

Badly for Bad.

"I feel badly." "He looks badly." The former sentence implies defective nerves of sensation, the latter, imperfect vision. Use the adjective.

8

Both alike.

Both alike.

"They are both alike." Say, they are alike. One of them could not be alike.

9

Capacity for Ability.

Capacity for Ability.

"A great capacity for work." Capacity is receptive; ability, potential. A sponge has capacity for water; the hand, ability to squeeze it out.

10

Casualties for Losses in Battle.

Casualties for Losses in Battle.

The essence of casualty is accident, absence of design. Death and wounds in battle are produced otherwise, are expectable and expected, and, by the enemy, intentional.

11

Commit Suicide.

Commit Suicide.

Instead of "He committed suicide," say, He killed himself, or, He took his life. For married we do not say "committed matrimony." Unfortunately most of us do say, "got married," which is almost as bad. For lack of a suitable verb we just sometimes say committed this or that, as in the instance of bigamy, for the verb to bigam is a blessing that is still in store for us.

12

Compare with for Compare to.

Compare with for Compare to.

"He had the immodesty to compare himself with Shakespeare." Nothing necessarily immodest in that. Comparison with may be for observing a difference; comparison to affirms a similarity.

13

Continually and Continuously.

Continually and Continuously.

It seems that these words should have the same meaning, but in their use by good writers there is a difference. What is done continually is not done all the time, but continuous action is without interruption. A loquacious fellow, who nevertheless finds time to eat and sleep, is continually talking; but a great river flows continuously.

14

Critically for Seriously.

Critically for Seriously.

"He has long been critically ill." A patient is critically ill only at the crisis of his disease.

15

Deprivation for Privation.

Deprivation for Privation.

"The mendicant showed the effects of deprivation." Deprivation refers to the act of depriving, taking away from; privation is the state of destitution, of not having.

16

Directly for Immediately.

Directly for Immediately.

"I will come directly" means that I will come by the most direct route.

17

Fail.

Fail.

"He failed to note the hour." That implies that he tried to note it, but did not succeed. Failure carries always the sense of endeavor; when there has been no endeavor there is no failure. A falling stone cannot fail to strike you, for it does not try; but a marksman firing at you may fail to hit you; and I hope he always will.

18

Forecasted.

Forecasted.

For this abominable word we are indebted to the weather bureau—at least it was not sent upon us until that affliction was with us. Let us hope that it may some day be losted from the language.

19

Got Married for Married.

Got Married for Married.

If this is correct we should say, also, "got dead" for died; one expression is as good as the other.

20

Hereafter for Henceforth.

Hereafter for Henceforth.

Hereafter means at some time in the future; henceforth, always in the future. The penitent who promises to be good hereafter commits himself to the performance of a single good act, not to a course of good conduct.

21

Literally for Figuratively.

Literally for Figuratively.

"The stream was literally alive with fish." "His eloquence literally swept the audience from its feet." It is bad enough to exaggerate, but to affirm the truth of the exaggeration is intolerable.

22

Literally for Figuratively.

Literally for Figuratively.

"The stream was literally alive with fish." "His eloquence literally swept the audience from its feet." It is bad enough to exaggerate, but to affirm the truth of the exaggeration is intolerable

23

Loan for Lend.

Loan for Lend.

"I loaned him ten dollars." We lend, but the act of lending, or, less literally, the thing lent, is a loan.

24

Mistaken for Mistake.

Mistaken for Mistake.

"You are mistaken." For whom? Say, You mistake.

25

Moneyed for Wealthy.

Moneyed for Wealthy.

"The moneyed men of New York." One might as sensibly say, "The cattled men of Texas," or, "The lobstered men of the fish market."