PRECISE:  (Adjective)  definitely or strictly stated  .  defined  .  carefully distinct  .  exact  .  accurate  .  unambiguous


Precise and precision have a variety of meanings, some of which are listed above.  Anyone who desires to be  an effective  writer  or speaker, which is the real goal of communication,  should make an effort to be precise.

The language police, those individuals who are always watching for linguistic misdemeanors, ready to put the clamps on offenders, are not popular. They sometimes don’t have a welcome place at a party because they like preciseness  and are not bashful about  trying  to help others use the language effectively.  Looking at  the comments on Facebook and other social media platforms, one has to conclude that help is needed. Here is a little help with some commonly misused words.

Enormity is one word that is often misused.  A few mornings ago I read the following in the devotional book I’m using this year: “Ponder the enormity of the amazing gift and rejoice.” A person would not be inclined to rejoice at the enormity of anything. The word enormity means “something bad or morally wrong,” “wickedness,” or  “evil.”  In the context, the word was confused with “enormous,” which mean “huge,”  “large,” or “extensive.”

I read somewhere that the most often misused word is ironic. I can’t attest to that, but I know that  people misuse it a lot.  Ironic does not mean interesting, unfortunate, or coincidental. It means “the reversal of what is expected.” The opposite of what you would expect happens. Here is a good example that made me chuckle when I read it: “The King James Bible is the most often shoplifted book in the United States.”  The irony is that people steal the book that says “Thou shalt not steal.”

How about the word dialogue?   A dialogue is between two people, not with a group. And dialogue is a noun, not a verb. We do not dialog; we engage in a dialogue.  The speech or conversation  between two  individuals in a play is a dialogue.

If the blurb on the cover of my next book makes you want to read what’s inside (for which I would be happy), it will have piqued your interest, not peeked it.  And something that happens over and over recurs, not reoccurs. Also,  if you’re not interested in what a certain politician says, you couldn’t care less, not could care less. If you could care less, then you are able to care even less than you now do. Bandied about should be used instead of bantered about.  To “circulate freely” is to bandy (for instance, to bandy gossip).  Banter means light, playful, or teasing.

Sometimes in our reading, we come across dangling or misplaced modifiers that can be unintentionally humorous.  These  result from   imprecise, ineffective  usage.   According to  The Practical Stylist handbook,  “A modifier dangles when it slips loose  from the sentence and dangles,  referring to nothing or the wrong thing.”  With preciseness in mind, let’s look at a few examples.

Example: (from my recent  copy of the AARP Bulletin): “But when driving, these sunglasses may save your life.” In this sentence, the sunglasses are driving; the person is nowhere around. Correct the error by placing “you are” in front of  “driving.”

Example: “The police department will be notified of all reported prank phone calls by the telephone company.”  Which telephone company makes prank phone calls?  Rewrite the sentence: The telephone company will notify the police department of all prank phone calls.

Example: “Before entering high school, my father died (I had already lost my mother several years before).”  Such an unusual family! When was the writer born?  This example was written by a famous author whose book I greatly enjoyed reading. As you can see, anyone can dangle or misplace  a modifier.  Correct the sentence by deleting “entering” and inserting the words  “I entered” in front of “high school.”

Example: “The condition of Apollo astronaut James Irwin, whose heart stopped while jogging last week, was upgraded to fair and stable.”  It seems Irwin’s heart went jogging. To correct the error, insert “he was”  after the word “while.” To avoid writing dangling or misplaced modifiers, make sure the word being modified and the modifier are together in the sentence.

Whatever you write, be effective by making sure it is unambiguous,  definitely stated,  exact, and accurate. When you are unsure, consult a dictionary, and if you don’t have a dictionary, you can always ask Google.




Grammar Checker—a software program for those who know grammar
and virtually
useless  for those who don’t.” 

Richard E. Turner