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P

Pair for Pairs. If a word has a good plural use each form in its place.

Pants for Trousers. Abbreviated from pantaloons, which are no longer worn. Vulgar exceedingly.

Partially for Partly. A dictionary word, to swell the book.

Party for Person. "A party named Brown." The word, used in that sense, has the excuse that it is a word. Otherwise it is no better than "pants" and "gent." A person making an agreement, however, is a party to that agreement.

Patron for Customer.

Pay for Give, Make, etc. "He pays attention." "She paid a visit to Niagara." It is conceivable that one may owe attention or a visit to another person, but one cannot be indebted to a place.

Pay. "Laziness does not pay." "It does not pay to be uncivil." This use of the word is grossly commercial. Say, Indolence is unprofitable. There is no advantage in incivility.

Peek for Peep. Seldom heard in England, though common here. "I peeked out through the curtain and saw him." That it is a variant of peep is seen in the child's word peek-a-boo, equivalent to bo-peep. Better use the senior word.

Peculiar for Odd, or Unusual. Also sometimes used to denote distinction, or particularity. Properly a thing is peculiar only to another thing, of which it is characteristic, nothing else having it; as knowledge of the use of fire is peculiar to Man.

People for Persons. "Three people were killed." "Many people are superstitious." People has retained its parity of meaning with the Latin populus, whence it comes, and the word is not properly used except to designate a population, or large fractions of it considered in the mass. To speak of any stated or small number of persons as people is incorrect.

Per. "Five dollars per day." "Three per hundred." Say, three dollars a day; three in a hundred. If you must use the Latin preposition use the Latin noun too: per diem; per centum.

Perpetually for Continually. "The child is perpetually asking questions." What is done perpetually is done continually and forever.

Phenomenal for Extraordinary, or Surprising. Everything that occurs is phenomenal, for all that we know about is phenomena, appearances. Of realities, noumena, we are ignorant.

Plead (pronounced "pled") for Pleaded. "He plead guilty."

Plenty for Plentiful. "Fish and fowl were plenty."

Poetess. A foolish word, like "authoress."

Poetry for Verse. Not all verse is poetry; not all poetry is verse. Few persons can know, or hope to know, the one from the other, but he who has the humility to doubt (if such a one there be) should say verse if the composition is metrical.

Point Blank. "He fired at him point blank." This usually is intended to mean directly, or at short range. But point blank means the point at which the line of sight is crossed downward by the trajectory--the curve described by the missile.

Poisonous for Venomous. Hemlock is poisonous, but a rattlesnake is venomous.

Politics. The word is not plural because it happens to end with s.

Possess for Have. "To possess knowledge is to possess power." Possess is lacking in naturalness and unduly emphasizes the concept of ownership.

Practically for Virtually. This error is very common. "It is practically conceded." "The decision was practically unanimous." "The panther and the cougar are practically the same animal." These and similar misapplications of the word are virtually without excuse.

Predicate for Found, or Base. "I predicate my argument on universal experience." What is predicated of something is affirmed as an attribute of it, as omnipotence is predicated of the Deity.

Prejudice for Prepossession. Literally, a prejudice is merely a prejudgment--a decision before evidence--and may be favorable or unfavorable, but it is so much more frequently used in the latter sense than in the former that clarity is better got by the other word for reasonless approval.

Preparedness for Readiness. An awkward and needless word much used in discussion of national armaments, as, "Our preparedness for war."

Preside. "Professor Swackenhauer presided at the piano." "The deviled crab table was presided over by Mrs. Dooley." How would this sound? "The ginger pop stand was under the administration of President Woolwit, and Professor Sooffle presided at the flute."

Pretend for Profess. "I do not pretend to be infallible." Of course not; one does not care to confess oneself a pretender. To pretend is to try to deceive; one may profess quite honestly.

Preventative for Preventive. No such word as preventative.

Previous for Previously. "The man died previous to receipt of the letter."

Prior to for Before. Stilted.

Propose for Purpose, or Intend. "I propose to go to Europe." A mere intention is not a proposal.

Proposition for Proposal. "He made a proposition." In current slang almost anything is a proposition. A difficult enterprise is "a tough proposition," an agile wrestler, "a slippery proposition," and so forth.

Proportions for Dimensions. "A rock of vast proportions." Proportions relate to form; dimensions to magnitude.

Proven for Proved. Good Scotch, but bad English.

Proverbial for Familiar. "The proverbial dog in the manger." The animal is not "proverbial" for it is not mentioned in a proverb, but in a fable.


Ambrose Bierce

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