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#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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Maybe if you’d spent less time…

… playing “unnoticeably on your broswer” during English class:

Lame by you.

… you would know that there isn’t a capital R in “classroom.”

For the record, this was a pop up ad that managed to sneak by my pop up blocker. I wasn’t actually searching for online fantasy games featuring women with giant breast implants.  If you happen to be searching for such a thing, though, apparently you can go to this site.


That Must Have Been Messy

From a news story on the CTV website:  Dozens rescued after B.C. gondola tower collapses

Emergency crews evacuated dozens of skiers and snowboarders who were left stranded aboard sagging gondola cars when a support tower collapsed Tuesday.


By 6:15 p.m., all of the passengers had been evacuated, CTV B.C. reported.

The skiers and snowboarders were evacuated?  Ewww!

“Evacuate” means to remove things from.  If you evacuate a town or a building, it means you remove all the people from said town or building.  If you evacuate a gondola car, you remove the skiers and snowboarders from the gondola car.

If you evacuate the skiers and snowboarders, however, it means you are taking their insides out.  Messy.

(Fortunately, no one was seriously injured [although this would undoubtedly have been really scary!], so I feel OK about picking on the incorrect word usage in this news story).


Non-inclusive language makes me angry

I was doing a little light reading about Bill C-51, “An Act respecting foods, therapeutic products and cosmetic” and noticed this in the FAQ from the Government of Canada’s “Healthy Canadians” website:

Mothers?  Really?  You couldn’t go with something more inclusive like “parents”?  Fathers raise kids too, you know, and sometimes, they give them vitamin C.

Also, DIN stands for “drug identification number“, so “DIN numbers” is redundant.


Socratic Irony

I was reading up on the dictionary definition of irony1 and came across this definition of the term “Socractic irony“:

Socratic irony
pretended ignorance in discussion.

I’ve never heard this term before. I’m familiar with the concept of dramatic irony, but Socratic irony is a new one for me. I think I would merely have referred to it as “feigned ignorance.”

You learn something new every day!

1What, doesn’t everyone read the dictionary for fun?a
aNote that this sentence is sarcastic, not ironic.