In my last blog I decried the general confusion surrounding affect vs. effect, claiming that it’s not rocket science so there’s no excuse not to get it right. But I’m starting to think I was a little hasty in making that statement. Maybe it is rocket science! Maybe it’s harder than splitting the atom or analyzing the soil composition on Mars. Maybe we Grammarians Who Get It are rocket scientists and rock stars rolled into one. Now all we need is an agency to represent us and we’ll be good to go.
In the meantime, I’ll tackle a couple more homophonic horrors that abound in print and in pixel. You guessed it, principal vs. principle tops the list. In a nutshell: if it means “rule” or “maxim,” use the –ple word. If it’s the guy or gal who makes the rules, or an adjective denoting “primary” or “main,” use the –pal word.
Complimentary vs. complementary also throws most non-rocket scientists for a loop. This one’s easy. If it’s flattering or free, it takes an i – as in complimentary tickets to see the Battle of the Bands or a complimentary remark made by a secret admirer. If you’re talking about two parts that complete each other, like blue and orange or Oscar and Felix, use the e word.
Now is this really as complex as the equations used to launch the Advanced Composition Explorer program?
The sad list goes on: elude vs. allude, discreet vs. discrete, rein vs. reign, prescribe vs. proscribe, defuse vs. diffuse… When I string all these word pairs together, the task seems hopeless. But then again, the space program wasn’t created in a day. We rocket scientists must soldier on and keep launching our missives into the hot air, hoping against hope that some will find receptive targets. It’s a dirty job, to be sure, but someone’s gotta do it.