“Woe is I! – More “Mixed Doubles”

Woe-Is-I-3rdedIn the past we have examined some selections from part of chapter five in Patricia O’Conner’s helpful book on English grammar and word usage. The book is Woe Is I: The Grammarphobe’s Guide to Better English in Plain English (Riverhead Books, New York, c.1996), and it contains a section headed by the phrase “mixed doubles,” which has to do with words that are commonly confused or mixed up, because they are close in spelling and sometimes in meaning.

It’s time to look at a few more of these confusing couplets today. Discern and learn! 🙂

continually/continuously.  Yes, there is a slight difference, although most people (and even many dictionaries) treat them the same. Continually means repeatedly, with breaks in between. Continuously means without interruption, in an unbroken stream. ‘Heidi has to wind the cuckoo clock continually to keep it running continuously.’ (If it’s important to emphasize the distinction, it’s probably better to use periodically or intermittently instead of continually to describe something that starts and stops.) The same distinction, by the way, applies to continual and continuous, the adjective forms.

deserts/desserts. People who get what they deserve are getting their deserts – the accent for both is on the second syllable. (‘John Wilkes Booth got his just deserts.‘) People who get goodies smothered in whipped cream and chocolate sauce at the end of a meal are getting desserts – which they may or may not deserve: ‘For dessert I’ll have one of those layered puff-pastry things with cream filling and icing on top,’ said Napoleon (95-96).

Published in: on April 15, 2015 at 6:34 AM  Leave a Comment  
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