#3 – Word Police: Correct Word Usage

As any of my students will tell you, I’m a big stickler for correct word usage. In fact, I often say that learning the correct meaning of words is about half1 of what you do in your education!

So, in that vein, I give you four pairs of words2 that are commonly used as if they were synonymous, but that actually have different meanings:

Sex and Gender

People often use the words “sex” and “gender” as if they were the same. I find that people often use the word “gender” when they actually mean sex because they don’t want to say S-E-X.  But sex and gender, while related, are actually two different things.  Sex refers to the biological/physiological, while gender refers to socially constructed roles/behaviours/attributes.  For example, if you are talking about a female as being someone with XX chromosomes/a uterus/higher estrogen & progesterone levels and a male as being someone with XY chromosomes/a penis/higher testosterone levels – that’s sex3.  If you are talking about “masculine” and “feminine” traits (e.g., what society says about how you should dress or wear your hair, what type of job you have, who does the housework) – these things are socially/culturally constructed.   So if you ever read an article that talks about “gender differences” among male and female rats – you’ll know they’ve got it wrong!

Between and Among

Between should only be used when you are talking about two things, while among is used when there are three or more things.  For example, you would say “I found it difficult to chose who is hotter between Rick DiPietro and Mikko Koivu” and “Who do you think is the hottest among Zach Parise, Mike Komisarek, and Jonathan Toews?”

E.g., and i.e.,

e.g., is the abbreviation that means “for example,” while i.e., is the abbreviation that means “that is.”   So, you use the former when you are giving an example and you use the latter when you are clarifying something.  It drives me bonkers when people use these incorrectly!  Also, there should be a period after each letter and a comma after the second period (as I’ve written them above), not “eg” or “ie” or anything other than “e.g., ” and “i.e.,”

Requirement and Recommendation

This is one that comes from my experience in the field of nutrition. People often use the words “requirement” and “recommendation” interchangably and they so are not the same thing. Recommendation refers to how much someone (i.e.,  the experts) recommend, how much they suggest a person consume.   Requirement, on the other hand, refers to how much you actually require, how much you need.  Different people have different requirements and we don’t usually know an individual person’s requirement (as it requires in depth biological testing to figure that out). Scientists set recommendations in such a way that they will meet the needs of the vast majority of people. I find that people tend to mix these two words up and say things like “I analyzed Julie’s diet and she is meeting her requirement for vitamin C,” when, in realty, they have no idea what Julie’s requirement is – they mean she met her recommendation. OK, I’m probably the only person who cares about this one.

1Also, making up figures is the other 3/4 of what you do.
2OK, so “e.g.,” and “i.e.,” aren’t actually words. And this is a posting about using words correctly. Just wanted to point that out.
3Note that this dichotomy is simplified, as there are also people that have different choromosomal configurations (such as XO, XXY, etc.) and different hormonal/anatomical configurations that don’t fall into this female/male binary.

Related post: The difference between historic and historical.

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6 Replies to “#3 – Word Police: Correct Word Usage”

  1. Sex/gender – Sarah is always getting this one wrong Like just yesterday, when she was like, “We should go have gender now.” And I was like, “Baby, you're mixing up your words again. And also, I can't right now. I'm watching my stories.”

  2. I actually hate putting the comma after eg and ie, although I do usually use the periods. My old boss Maureen was a stickler for the comma, which is probably why I hate it. I.e. it was stupid to get worked up about. E.g. she would proofread my stuff and send me back red commas after the e.g. and i.e.

    I remember a discussion in a sociology class that even the usage of sex and gender you describe above is kinda in flux/not necessarily as cut and dried. But yeah, that's how I think of it: sex = biology and gender = cultural/social. Or, I should say, to be fancy: socio-cultural

  3. Why do you hate the commas? If you were to write the words out instead, you would use the commas:

    Spiders are evil. For example, they want to kill you.

    Not:

    Spiders are evil. For example they want to kill you.

    Same goes for “this is.”

    And yes, the whole sex and gender thing isn't quite as cut and dried/is being debated. But I find that anybody who isn't in sociology tends to use them interchangeably, so at least this is a start.

  4. Why couldn't anyone have explained the whole 'e.g.,' and 'i.e.,' thing sooner? And I was an English major too! Adding the commas makes perfect sense to me, if only for the fact that it will stop word processors from auto-capitalizing the word that follows.

  5. Glad to be of assistance! Another tip: program your auto correct in Word (or whatever word processing software you use) to automatically change “eg” to “e.g.,” and “ie” to “i.e.,” – that way you just have to type two letters and it will give you the correct punctuation.

    And your point about the comma stopping the auto-cap is a good one – I hadn't even thought of that!

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