Style Matters #41: Double-check these words to prevent embarrassment

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Although people regularly make fun of the Australian vernacular and snigger at the likes of Kath and Kim, beginner reporters, broadcasters and writers everywhere need to catch themselves before they mangle their language.

Here are a few treasures that have either crept into everyday language – or on to the page or screen – that have no place in news or features copy. And, for most of them, their only place in books is probably as comedic relief or pomposity.

  • pacifically: unless you mean on or near the Pacific Ocean or peaceably, mildly, calmly or quietly, the word you are probably looking for is specifically which means one particular thing or type of thing
  • definately: although you may mispronounce it that way, the word is actually definitely (it has no a)
  • irregardless: not even a word, but regardless is and it means having, or showing, no regard
  • enormity: this means extreme evil and not immensity
  • incredible: which means impossible to believe, not credible although many writers and broadcasters would like it to mean amazing
  • orientate/reorientate: over time, like the Americans, Australians have adopted the shorter forms, orient/reorient rather than the longer British versions (which mean the same thing: to get one’s bearings)
  • could of/should of/would of: all wrong – they are correctly either could have/should have/would have or could’ve/should’ve/would’ve, the former being the better written form, the latter working better for speech
  • disinterested/uninterested: these are not interchangeable words – the former means to have no personal or financial interest and the latter means to be bored
  • allot/a lot: the first word means to allocate or assign and the second is the correct spelling for a large but undefined amount – there is no such word as a lot
  • alright: is all wrong, too – it is all right (two words), although common usage may one day dictate this as a merged word, it is not there yet
  • rain/rein/reign: be extra careful here because the first is obvious (it’s precipitation from the sky), the second is the strap used to control a horse while the third is the period of time a ruler is in charge
  • often: this one is in the pronunciation – it’s correctly pronounced off-un, not off-tun, in other words the t is silent (something, thankfully, a mentor pointed out to me just before I finished my initial journalism course)

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