Like most of the rest of us, you didn’t go to Harvard University. I drove by a few times, even went to some of their “mixers” or college dances. The closest I got was a kid on my street who got accepted and actually graduated from Harvard. No one liked him after that. Or before, for that matter.
When I worked at the Gloucester Times, they hired a reporter who mumbled … on purpose. After he was there for a few weeks I decoded his mumble about his alma mater. He didn’t go to “Harvard” like people thought he was saying. He actually went to “ Haverford.” It took a few weeks for the editors to discover the mumble, and by then it was too late.
He never even saw Harvard. But Steve Pinker did. If you can believe it, Stevey is a “linguist and cognitive scientist” at Harvard. He is so sick of all your non-Harvard word mistakes that he has carefully identified the most common to straighten you out.
Pinker wants you to speak like a Harvard graduate even if you never even drove by the place.
I know you don’t know the difference between adverse and averse, do you? You use them interchangeably. But Pinker reminds us that adverse is unfavorable or harmful as in “adverse conditions.” But averse means disinclined to do something.
Appraise means to evaluate the worth of something, like your house when you have refinanced for the seventh time. But apprise means to inform someone of an approaching situation, usually dangerous or negative, like Trump’s economic program.
How are you at questions? Do you know that “begs the question” implies a conclusion unsupported by evidence, but “raises the question” is to confront a new conclusion?
I always stay away from “criteria.” The singular use is criterion, the plural is criteria. You should stay away from that, too.
Do you know the difference between depreciate, which means to lower in value, like that house with the seven mortgages, and deprecate, which means to disapprove of? You have mixed them up, haven’t you? Pinker and I are here to help.
Enervate is to cause someone to feel drained, or just the opposite of energize, which is to give someone or something more pep and purpose. You never knew that, now did you?
Flaunt is to show off, like Trump and his golden toilet. But flout is to openly disregard, like zoning laws or a question from CNN.
I hear “home” and “hone” all the time on television broadcasts. “Hone” is to sharpen or revive. But “home in on” means to head toward a target or goal. You have misused that, haven’t you? It’s no wonder Harvard never answered your application.
The one that got me while writing sinking fishing boat stories for three decades was floundering and foundering. Now pay attention. Flounder means to struggle helplessly. But founder means you are done, filling with water and sinking. It is better to flounder.
Fulsome does not mean full or copious. It means excessively flattering. Look it up.
There is no such word as irregardless. The word is regardless, dummy.
I know you have done this. Meretricious is to appear attractive while having no value or sincerity, like a certain president-elect. Meritorious means to deserve praise. No comment.
Steve Pinker and I will be checking your tweets, correspondences and conversations for these common mistakes. Forewarned is forearmed.
Or no more Harvard mixers for you.
Emmet Meara lives in Camden in blissful retirement after working as a reporter for the Bangor Daily News in Rockland for 30 years.