Book Review: The Wrong Word Dictionary

Published on September 27th, 2012 in: Book Reviews, Books, Reviews |

By Jemiah Jefferson

wrong word dictionary

Are you one of those people that flies into a laser-eyed rage when you see grizzly misused in the place of grisly? Or are you one of those people who has no idea what the difference is between a gourmand and a gourmet; all you know is that they love their food or something? The English language is a tangly beast, easy to give the impression of mastery for any native speaker, and yet almost no one, even linguists, editors, professors of English, or journalists writing in the New York Times (ahem) will always choose the correct word, sometimes using an incorrect homonym or a related word, and only the driest (or perhaps the most frothy) pedants ever seems to notice.

Don’t be that kind of person! The Wrong Word Dictionary: 2,500 Most Commonly Confused Words is here to help. Written by Dave Dowling, author of similarly useful The Dictionary of Worthless Words: 3000 Words to Stop Using Now, this reference volume provides straightforward and simple definitions for the word combinations most often confused for each other. Every student, journalist, fiction writer, or employment seeker would be well advised to avoid mixing up figuratively, literally, and literately; using the wrong word in the wrong context can undermine an attempt to seem credible, educated, or superior to that jerk on your favorite Internet comment board.

Word combinations are grouped and cross-referenced by concept and arranged alphabetically for ease of use, and each word or term is accompanied by a definition and, for most of them, an example of correct usage. Interspersed with the definitions are occasional humorous illustrations that illuminate a particular word combination. This isn’t exactly the kind of book most of us would want to curl up by the fireside and read straight through, though this approach can be informative, educational, and surprising; even the vocab-obsessed Yours Truly found herself being schooled on words she’d been using incorrectly for years.

Handy to the point of being essential for anyone who uses words pretty much ever, this book is both utilitarian and fun.

And just so you know, grisly is something gruesome, bloody, or otherwise sickening with a connotation of gore. Grizzly is a species of bear. And gristly describes something containing gristle, or anything that can be imagined as really tough. To wit: It doesn’t matter that your barbecued ribs are gristly; I think you’d better share them with that hungry grizzly, or this picnic might become grisly.

The Wrong Word Dictionary was published by Marion Street Press and can be purchased online from their website.

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