Question of the Week

What common language errors make you grit your teeth?

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Whether you’re listening to a voice message from a client, reading aloud a brief or consulting a colleague about a case, you’ve likely heard someone use a wrong word in a sentence—and it made you cringe.

You’re not alone. Last month, we featured two Your Voice columns from lawyer Mark H. Alcott—the first called out linguistic errors in common parlance, and the second expressed Alcott’s displeasure at various cliches, banalities and bizarre usages.

Among Alcott’s most cringeworthy word-usage errors:

  • Lie and lay. “It seems that only a tiny portion of English speakers (or at least American speakers) know the difference,” Alcott writes. “Therefore, we get following embarrassment: ‘I’m so tired, I’m going to lay in bed.’ Please don’t; there are children present.”

  • Volunteers. “For reasons I have never understood, those who hold the top positions in [the ABA]—including the officers, committee and section chairs, board members, and the like—are called (and even call themselves) volunteers. Why? … Call us what we are: leaders.”

  • Acronyms. “There are the wannabes, entities that are (deservedly) obscure but nevertheless pretentiously tout their initials as if they need no further identification. Trust me, they do,” he says. “Even sillier is the practice of speaking an entity’s initials as if they formed a real word.”

Northern Michigan University has an extensive list of common word-usage errors, including affect (to influence, a verb) and effect (result, a noun); awhile (an adverb) and a while (an article and noun); and the ever-so-common to (a preposition), too (used when there’s too much, too many, too little of something) and two (the number). If you’re ever in a word-usage bind, perhaps it can be of assistance.

So this week we’d like to ask you: What common language errors make you grit your teeth? Which words trip you up? Where do colleagues stumble? What helps you remember the correct words when speaking?

Answer in the comments.

Read the answers to last week’s question: Do you always write briefs to the maximum length?

Featured answer:

Posted by Lizpie: “I have never written to the limit. In fact, I haven’t even looked up the limit in over 20 years. Lawyers talk too much.”

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