Deviant Usage and Confusing Words is a compilation of short articles published weekly in The Heritage from 2002–2004. The Heritage is a Ghanaian newspaper published by Heritage Communications Limited, Accra. In the first edition, my objective was to sharpen the awareness of Educated English-speaking Ghanaians on deviant usage peculiar to English in Ghana and on commonly confused words. The objective remains the same for this new edition. However, this second edition has been expanded to include. 14 new articles which were written after the publication of the first edition. A new feature designed to increase the word power of users of the book is the “Dictionary Work” box at the end of each unit. The vocabulary items for study relate to the thematic focus of the unit, and are intended not only to augment the word power of the user but also to stimulate their dictionary use habit. It is common knowledge that many educated people especially those who do routine work hardly touch the dictionary.
Additional Info
  • Publisher: Laxmi Publications
  • Language: English
  • ISBN : 978-93-5138-097-9
  • Chapter 1

    British or American English Price 2.99  |  2.99 Rewards Points

    There are numerous varieties of the English language. We can speak of regional varieties, and varieties according to subject matter, medium and attitude. Most of us would have heard of or used the labels, Ghanaian English, Nigerian English, Canadian English, Indian English, etc. All these are regional varieties; and within these varieties there are varieties according to subject matter, medium and education. The most distinctive feature of regional varieties is pronunciation. In other words, it is relatively easy to recognize a regional variety on the basis of the speaker’s pronunciation. Other features such as vocabulary and grammatical variation may be noticed later in the person’s language of person.
  • Chapter 2

    Is it a global world or a globalized world Price 2.99  |  2.99 Rewards Points

    Language, it is said, reflects the spirit of the age. Indeed, many scholars have commented upon the relationship between the popularity of certain words and expressions and the changing face of society. These days it is not unusual to hear the words ‘capacity building’, ‘fast track’ (in different contexts of use), ‘zero tolerance’, not forgetting ‘domestication’ in the news, in political speeches and public debates 1. A phrase that has caught my attention is ‘global world’. Which is commonly used in public discourse in the Ghanaian media. But is this expression correct?
  • Chapter 3

    Which is correct declared the meeting openopened Price 2.99  |  2.99 Rewards Points

    Which of these two sentences is correct? 1.The chairman declared the meeting open at 10:55 a.m. 2.The chairman declared the meeting opened at 10:55 a.m. Both sentences are semantically the same but grammatically Sentence (1) appears to be more acceptable. Semantically, ‘open’ (adjective) and ‘opened’ (verb) have the same meaning, which is – ‘ready to be used’, ‘ready to provide a service’, or generally speaking, ‘to begin to do something’.
  • Chapter 4

    Tribe or Ethnicity Price 2.99  |  2.99 Rewards Points

    A survey of the meanings of the word ‘tribe’ and its derivatives ‘tribal’ and ‘tribalism’ shows that they are used mainly in derogatory senses (expressive of low opinion). Indeed in contemporary contexts when ‘tribe’ is used to refer to a community living within a traditional society it is considered offensive since it is strongly associated with past attitudes of white colonialists towards so-called primitive or uncivilized people living in remote undeveloped places. Thus, is it not intriguing that many of us still use the word ‘tribe’ and its derivatives in reference to our places of origin?
  • Chapter 5

    What is the difference between life history and life story Price 2.99  |  2.99 Rewards Points

    An old school mistress always insisted that it was absolutely wrong to use the phrase ‘life history’ to refer to the events that have taken place in a person’s life. She explained that the correct expression is ‘life story’; and that ‘life history’ strictly refers to life cycle, that is, the history of the biological development of an organism. How accurate is this position?
  • Chapter 6

    Money Talks Price 2.99  |  2.99 Rewards Points

    In most of its uses, ‘money’ has no plural, but when the reference is to discrete sums of money, usually obtained from various sources or distributed to various individuals or groups, the plural ‘moneys’ or ‘monies’ is often used (Merriam Webster 1989)
  • Chapter 7

    ChopChop Price 2.99  |  2.99 Rewards Points

    ‘Chop–Chop’ is an informal expression meaning hurry-up: ‘Chop–chop, we haven’t got all day !’ It originated from Pidgin English based on a Chinese dialect word for ‘quick’. In the sense of ‘hurry-up’ the expression hardly occurs in English in Ghana, but it is used in sub-standard forms to refer to food or the act of eating
  • Chapter 8

    Catch-22 Price 2.99  |  2.99 Rewards Points

    A catch-22 situation has been defined as a situation in which a desired outcome or solution is impossible to attain because of a set of inherently illogical rules or conditions. In other words, it is an impossible situation where you are prevented from doing one thing until you have done another thing, but you cannot do the other thing until you have done the first thing.
  • Chapter 9

    Touch Wood Price 2.99  |  2.99 Rewards Points

    ‘Touch wood’ is a superstitious or humorous expression that is supposed to prevent bad luck, often people actually touch a piece of wood when they say it. Example: ‘If on your journey in the night, touch wood, your car develops an engine problem, what will you do’. Probably the equivalent in local parlance is— ‘Taflatse’
  • Chapter 10

    Go to Pieces Price 2.99  |  2.99 Rewards Points

    In the 1970s, Jimmy Cliff’s ‘Go to Pieces’ was a hit. I was a kid then but I still remember the melody with nostalgia. This unit focuses on the expression ‘go to pieces’ and others formed with ‘pieces’.
  • Chapter 11

    Ring Road Price 2.99  |  2.99 Rewards Points

    The word ‘ring road’ is documented as coming into the English language in 1928, (Ayto 1999): ‘London has no form, no symmetry. I suggest that we could give her this by cutting a broad ring-road through the old nineteenth century suburbs’. (The Daily Express) ‘Ring road’ thus came to mean a by-pass road encircling a town or other urban area. In American English, ‘ring road’ is referred to as ‘beltway’ (ca.1951). Though there is also the word “belt highway’ (1945), ‘beltway’ is the much more common expression. In Accra, the road that runs in front of the Ghana Broadcasting Corporation all the way to the Nkrumah Circle is referred to as the ring road, with associated links like– ring road west, ring road east and so on.
  • Chapter 12

    Rack Your Brains Price 2.99  |  2.99 Rewards Points

    The brain refers to the organ inside the skull head that controls movement, thought, memory and feeling. In English, several expressions or phrases are formed with the word ‘brain(s)’. Most of these relate to intelligence or lack of it. When the word ‘brain’ is used it refers to intelligence, it means ‘the ability to learn quickly’ and think about things in a logical and intelligent way as exemplified by the following sentences: (1) It doesn’t take much brain to work out that both stories can’t be true. (2)Teachers spotted that he had a good brain at an early age. The expression ‘You need brains as well as brawn.’ means ‘You need intelligence as well as strength’.
  • Chapter 13

    Do I mean every two months or twice a month Price 2.99  |  2.99 Rewards Points

    As a language teacher, students and professionals have persistently questioned me on the differences in meaning between ‘biannual’ and ‘biennial’, and on the exact meaning of ‘bimonthly’ and ‘biweekly’. Of course, the obvious starting-point for my response is to explain that the prefix ‘bi-’ means ‘two’ or ‘twice’. So ‘bimonthly’, for instance, means ‘every two months’ or ‘twice a month’. People are quick to point out the vast difference between the two meanings. How could they tell which meaning the writer or the speaker had in mind?
  • Chapter 14

    Paper and Papers When do we use the plural form Price 2.99  |  2.99 Rewards Points

    Some people are unsure about the correct usage of the countable and uncountable forms of ‘paper’. Let’s examine this problem.
  • Chapter 15

    Should we shun impact as a verb Price 2.99  |  2.99 Rewards Points

    The use of ‘impact’ (pronounced/impakt/) as a noun in a figurative sense is well established, and no longer stirs controversy. However, its use as a verb (pronounced/impakt/) in a figurative sense attracts adverse criticisms from certain quarters. We shall examine the meanings of ‘impact’ as a noun and then consider the criticisms of its use as a verb.
  • Chapter 16

    Some Idiomatic Expressions Price 2.99  |  2.99 Rewards Points

    The term ‘idiomatic’ is derived from ‘idiom’ which means a group of words whose meaning is different from the meanings of the individual words. An idiomatic expression is, thus, an expression that contains an idiom.
  • Chapter 17

    Homophones and Confusing Words An Introduction Price 2.99  |  2.99 Rewards Points

    Homophones refer to words which are pronounced the same as other words but have different meanings or different spellings or both.
  • Chapter 18

    Back up and Buck up Price 2.99  |  2.99 Rewards Points

    The impression one gets listening to many Ghanaian speakers of English is that the distinction between the vowels / æ / and / ∧ / as in ‘man’ and ‘must’ is barely perceptible. Often the vowel sounds in such words are realised as the low mid vowel quality / a /. A colleague who is a phonetician argues that in the absence of socio-phonetic study of this phenomenon, there is no empirical basis for such a claim to be made. Be that as it may, the tendency seems pervasive and it is worth drawing people’s attention to it, lest we slip into situations where some individuals will use ‘back up’ to mean ‘to encourage or become encouraged’ instead of using the right spelling ‘buck up’.
  • Chapter 19

    Cause and Course Price 2.99  |  2.99 Rewards Points

    In the following sentence, is the correct word ‘cause’ or ‘course’? ‘Thousands of workers demonstrated for the cause/course of freedom and justice’. We shall answer this question at the end of this piece.
  • Chapter 20

    The Treachery of Casual Price 2.99  |  2.99 Rewards Points

    It never crossed my mind for a second that ‘causal’ and ‘casual’ could be bedfellows till in one of my weekly newspaper articles entitled ‘Cause and Course’ my fingers mysteriously keyed in ‘casual’ in the phrase: ‘causal relationship’. The irony of the matter is that my column had devoted itself to ‘pontificating!’ on the need for language users to be mindful of homographs and homonyms; to wit, words that are similar in spelling but different in pronunciation; and words that are similar in pronunciation but different in spelling. So what went wrong?
  • Chapter 21

    Cease and Seize Price 2.99  |  2.99 Rewards Points

    There are differences in pronunciation and meaning between ‘cease’ and ‘seize’. ‘Cease’ is pronounced /si:s/ while ‘seize’ is pronounced /si:z/. So in pronunciation ‘cease’ ends with a ‘s-s-s’ sound while ‘seize’ ends with a ‘z-z-z’ sound. Let’s consider differences in meaning between the two words.
  • Chapter 22

    Censor and Censure Price 2.99  |  2.99 Rewards Points

    ‘Censor’ and ‘censure’ can be distinguished on the basis of the pronunciation of their last syllables and in terms of meaning. ‘Censor’ is pronounced / sεnse/ while ‘censure’ is pronounced /seneò/: Both words connote a sense of disapproval especially from the perspective of the affected party. Do not confuse ‘censor’ with ‘censer’ (ends in ‘er’) which refers to the container in which incense is burnt.
  • Chapter 23

    Cite Site and Sight Price 2.99  |  2.99 Rewards Points

    The interesting thing about the words ‘cite’, ‘site’ and ‘sight’ is that they have the same pronunciation: /sait/. So it is very easy to confuse them especially in written contexts. We shall take each word in turn and explain it, with the hope that you will not confuse them in future.
  • Chapter 24

    Disinterested and Uninterested Revisiting an old dispute Price 2.99  |  2.99 Rewards Points

    Occasionally, I have been asked about the difference between ‘disinterested’, and ‘uninterested’. These two words, it is argued, should mean the same. One, they have the same root ‘interested’ which means ‘in a position to gain from a situation or be affected by it’. Two, their prefixes – ‘dis-’ and ‘un-’ have the same meaning’: ‘not’ or ‘the opposite of’. However, the situation is not that straightforward. Surveying dictionaries and books on usage, I have observed that there are a number of scholars who insist on distinguishing the words. How tenable is their position?
  • Chapter 25

    Draught Draft and Drought Price 2.99  |  2.99 Rewards Points

    ‘Draught’ and ‘Draft’, spelt differently, have the same pronunciation /dra:ft/ while ‘draught’ and ‘drought’ though remarkably close in spelling (the difference being the contrast between ‘a’ and ‘o’) are wide apart in pronunciation and meaning. ‘Drought’ is pronounced /draut/. Let’s examine the relationships between ‘draught’ and ‘draft’ on one hand, and ‘draught’ and ‘drought’ on the other.
  • Chapter 26

    Foul and Fowl Price 2.99  |  2.99 Rewards Points

    A columnist of a Ghanaian weekly, The Weekend Heritage, realized to his horror that the heading for his column of that weekend’s edition read ‘Guinea Foul’ instead of ‘Guinea Fowl’. Clearly, the ‘w’ in ‘fowl’ had been replaced with a ‘u’. The columnist subsequently told me that the actual manuscript had had the spelling he intended. But the printer’s devil was at his heel, and mischievously rendered the phrase ‘Guinea Foul’. The words ‘fowl’ and ‘foul’ have the same pronunciation: /faul/; so if you dare the devil a ‘fowl’ (a bird, especially a chicken) could easily become a ‘foul’, that is, an action that is against the rules. Let’s explore further contexts in which both words are used.
  • Chapter 27

    Flash and Flush Price 2.99  |  2.99 Rewards Points

    A flash of light is a very bright light which comes suddenly and disappears immediately, like lightning in a storm. Example: ‘There was a flash of light in the darkness’. If a light flashes or if you flash a light, it shines with a very bright light, especially as quick, regular flashes of light. Example: ‘He flashed his headlights at us’. In American English, a flash is also the same as a torch.
  • Chapter 28

    Guard and Guide Price 2.99  |  2.99 Rewards Points

    One day I went to a Communication Centre whose a caption caught my eye—‘Guardlines’. Clearly, what was intended was– ‘Guidelines’. Let’s examine the differences between ‘guard’ and ‘guide’ so we don’t get confused when using them.
  • Chapter 29

    Heal Your Heels Price 2.99  |  2.99 Rewards Points

    ‘Heal’ and ‘Heels’ have the same pronunciation – /hi:l/, but evidently their spelling is different which could be a potential source of confusion. ‘Heal’ means to make whole, sound, or well, bring back to health or become healthy and normal again. Remember Luke 4:23 – ‘Physician, heal thyself’. This biblical proverb means that people should take care of their own defects not just correct the fault of others. Your ‘heel’ is the back part of your foot, just below your ankle. It also refers to the raised part of your shoe at the back. The heel of your hand is the rounded pad at the bottom of your palm. Let’s take a closer look at the meanings of each word.
  • Chapter 30

    Lamp and Lump Price 2.99  |  2.99 Rewards Points

    As is generally known, a lamp is a device which produces light by burning oil (remember the biblical story of the Ten Virgins and the lamp oil?) or gas or by using electricity. Very early in our lives, most of us whether village-bred, town-bred, or city-bred must have encountered this word and the device it refers to one way or another. In our part of the world, access to electricity is limited, and electricity power generation itself is so unreliable that many people resort to the use of candles and oil or gas powered lamps. Later in life you come across ‘lump’ (that is spelt with a ‘u’) used in reference to a growth on someone’s body, or in reference to detecting signs of breast cancer. As we have observed in previous units, many Ghanaian speakers of English tend to use the vowel sound /a/ for the vowels /æ/ and /∧∧∧∧∧/ in monosyllabic words such as ‘back/buck’ and ‘flash/ flush’. ‘Lamp’ and ‘lump’ fall into the same category. Let’s consider meaning differences between the two and contexts in which they are used.
  • Chapter 31

    Loose and Lose Price 2.99  |  2.99 Rewards Points

    Some people tend to confuse the word ‘loose’ with ‘lose’ and vice versa. We shall examine the contexts of use of both words. Loose /lu:s/ can be used as an adjective, verb and noun. The basic meaning of this word is ‘not firmly fixed where it should be’; or ‘able to become separated from something’. For example, you can say—‘a loose button or tooth’. Lose /lu:z/ is a verb; and it means ‘to be unable to find something or somebody’ or ‘to have something or somebody taken away from you by accident, old age, death, etc. For instance, ‘If a child keeps playing with your keys, you may lose them’, or ‘The injury from the car crash is so severe she may lose a leg’.
  • Chapter 32

    Portable and Potable Price 2.99  |  2.99 Rewards Points

    There is a difference between ‘portable’ and ‘potable’. Apart from the difference in spelling there is a difference in pronunciation and meaning. But we notice that most people tend to use ‘portable’ when what they actually mean is ‘potable’. ‘Portable’ is also used in contexts that are not easy to defend or explain. So we shall examine the differences between the two words and then take a closer look at the uses of ‘portable’ in the Ghanaian context.
  • Chapter 33

    Reign and Rein Price 2.99  |  2.99 Rewards Points

    ‘Reign’ and ‘rein’ have the same pronunciation - /rein/ with different meanings. Some writers misinterpret them and use ‘reign’ in contexts where ‘rein’ should have been used. Take note of the meanings of both words and the contexts in which they are used. Whenever you are in doubt don’t hesitate, go for a dictionary.
  • Chapter 34

    Resort and Result Price 2.99  |  2.99 Rewards Points

    As a noun, ‘resort’ refers to a place where people often go for holidays. Example: ‘a seaside resort’, ‘a beach resort’. It is also used to refer to a place that a person or a particular group of people often visits. Example: ‘This internet café is a favourite resort of businessmen’.
  • Chapter 35

    Round and Around Price 2.99  |  2.99 Rewards Points

    ‘Round’ and ‘Around’ may be regarded, in a jocular fashion, as linguistic siblings since they are similar in most respects except one—the ‘a’ in the spelling of ‘around’. Indeed, they are interchangeable in many contexts. However, there are certain contexts where one is generally preferred to the other. We shall examine some of these contexts.
  • Chapter 36

    Scrap and Scrape Price 2.99  |  2.99 Rewards Points

    There are many differences between ‘scrap’ and ‘scrape’. ‘Scrap’ is pronounced /skræp/ and ‘scrape’ is pronounced /skreip/. Let’s examine some of the meaning differences between the two words.
  • Chapter 37

    Sever and Severe Price 2.99  |  2.99 Rewards Points

    I believe most people have found themselves in situations where on coming across the word ‘sever’ have paused to think of its close resemblance to ‘severe’. Indeed, I have heard people pronounce, ‘sever’ as if it were ‘severe’. Let’s examine the pronunciations and uses of both words.
  • Chapter 38

    Stake and Steak Price 2.99  |  2.99 Rewards Points

    ‘Stake’ and ‘steak’ have the same pronunciation – /steik/ but are spelt differently, and have different meanings. Let’s examine the different meanings.
  • Chapter 39

    Straight and Strait Price 2.99  |  2.99 Rewards Points

    ‘Straight’ and ‘strait’ have the same pronunciation: /streit/. So sometimes people confuse the two. To avoid this, you have to take particular note of their spelling and their meaning differences
  • Chapter 40

    Laughing Stock or Stalk Price 2.99  |  2.99 Rewards Points

    Sometimes I encounter the word ‘stalk’ used in place of ‘stock’ in the expression ‘laughing stock’. The mistake is probably due to the perceived closeness in pronunciation between the two words: Stock /stbk/ Stalk / stck/. Note that the correct word is ‘stock’. ‘Laughing stock’ may be used to refer to a person who seems stupid or ridiculous in an attempt to be serious or important and not succeeding. Let’s examine the meanings and contexts of use of ‘stalk’ and ‘stock’.
  • Chapter 41

    Tends to Turn Price 2.99  |  2.99 Rewards Points

    ‘Tend’ is sometimes confused with ‘turn’ when the intended meaning is ‘incline’ or ‘move in a particular direction’. In the sentence, ‘Your friends turn to laugh at you’, the use of ‘turn’ is wrong. The correct word is ‘tend’. So the sentence should read ‘Your friends tend to laugh at you’.
  • Chapter 42

    Thick and Thin Price 2.99  |  2.99 Rewards Points

    The expression ‘through thick and thin’ means to continue to do something, however, bad the conditions or circumstances might be. For example, it may be used for a situation where one spouse continues to live with the other despite their bad circumstances (i.e., sudden poverty): ‘She stayed with her husband through thick and thin’. As separate words ‘thick’ and ‘thin’ have certain idiomatic uses that are worth exploring.
  • Chapter 43

    Through and Thorough Price 2.99  |  2.99 Rewards Points

    The obvious homophone for “through” / Oru:/ is “threw” /Oru:/(the past tense of “throw”), but the pair is not the focus of this unit Rather ‘through’ and ‘thorough’ /OreÙ/, similar in spelling but divergent in pronunciation, provide an overriding motivation for discussion in the unit. In fact, they do share a common linguistic ancestry, ‘through’ having preceded ‘thorough’ in coming into the English language.
  • Chapter 44

    Practice Exercise on Homophones Price 2.99  |  2.99 Rewards Points

    Below is a list of homophones. Look them up in a good dictionary, and take note of the following: i. Pronunciation ii. Meaning iii. Part of speech iv. Example phrases and sentences

About the Author