Four commonly misused words

Four words to use correctly this year (just ask Alanis Morrissette)

If you’re reading this it’s safe to assume you survived the New Year’s stampede for the gym. Along with a host of other good intentions now so effectively paving the way to Hell, who knows how long your new-found fondness for fitness will last? But here’s one resolution you must keep if your business communications are to be taken seriously this year:

Learn how to use these four commonly misused words correctly.

Here! Here!

If you’ve fired this written answer off as a show of support to someone’s suggestion or opinion, don’t be surprised to be deluged with responses asking, “Where, where?” The correct spelling is “Hear, hear!” It’s the shortened form of the phrase “Hear him, hear him!”, first used in place of applause and as a show of support in England’s Parliament from as long ago as the 17th century. True story.


Dribble is drool; that seemingly endless supply of clear liquid emanating from a baby’s mouth the moment you look lovingly into its eyes and say “coochie-coo”. But accuse your colleague of talking dribble and you’d be wrong. Plus, you’ll sound like a bit of a dill. If it’s imperative you emphatically decry what your co-worker is claiming, the phrase you need is “Drivel, sir! You’re wasting my time!” (as Chekov wrote in “The Death of a Civil Servant”, and he ought to know). Feel free to also substitute drivel with “claptrap”, “twaddle” or “balderdash” if you’re particularly anxious to sound upwardly mobile.


When you announce to your sales team “It’s time for a change of tact” don’t be surprised to find yourself looking at a sea of blank faces. Why, your staff may well be asking themselves, are you apparently exhorting them to be rude to customers? Tact is the art of making a point without making an enemy; it’s about being courteous and non confrontational. Changing tack, on the other hand, is a sailing strategy; something you do whilst sailing on the ocean blue to make best use of prevailing wind conditions. Your decision to take advantage of market trends by taking your sales strategy in a different direction works on the same principle.


Responding , “Definitely!” to the question of whether you’ll be at the 6.00am breakfast meeting is another way of saying “Absolutely!” It even gives the impression you’re wildly keen to get there at such an ungodly hour. Respond, “Defiantly!” and it’s the equivalent of saying “I don’t give a toss if you don’t want me there or not – see you at 6.00!” It’s easiest to remember that “defiant” has nothing whatsoever to do with trying to say “yes”.

Business communication or not, it’s always important to try to use the right word for what you’re attempting to convey or risk possible debilitating and lasting effects.

Just ask singer Alanis Morissette. It’s now two decades since she first warbled over the airwaves about the so-called irony of “ray-yay-yayn on your wedding day” in her inexplicably successful song “Ironic”. Morissette now claims the resultant backlash from millions of listeners correctly pointing out that soggy nuptials are merely the result of bad luck and nothing remotely connected with irony, has been partly responsible for the PTSD she has suffered from for the past 20 years or so. And that, gentle reader, should serve as a warning to us all.

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