Sunday, February 10, 2008

Eat and die

Sometimes words that sound nearly alike have quite different meanings, and you can embarrass yourself when you use them incorrectly. For example, the words gourmand and gourmet both refer to food, but one of them is laudatory and the other is insulting. A gourmet is a person who is knowledgeable about food and appreciates fine cuisine and wine. A gourmand, on the other hand, is a hog. A glutton. Someone who will plow his or her way through whatever's on the table. So it's probably not a good idea to refer to the boss as a gourmand.

Recently, I've seen considerable confusion in another word pair: interment and internment. To inter is to bury. To intern is to confine someone to a specific location, such as a camp, usually during a time of war. So an interment is a burial and an internment is a type of imprisonment.

While I suppose we could argue that someone who's dead is imprisoned in a coffin-sized space, that's a bit of a stretch. Better to get it right than to try to talk your way out of that one.

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