A Desk-Book of Errors in English/O


obnoxious: Formerly this word meant "liable, amenable, subject," but the meaning is sometimes forgotten in the more recently acquired sense, "odious, hurtful." This difference is beautifully illustrated by a question propounded to Dean Alford—"Which of these two is right, 'Death is obnoxious to man' or 'Men are obnoxious to death?'" Death, or the idea of death, is certainly distasteful to most men, but, this notwithstanding, all men are subject to death.

observance: Distinguish from observation. Though the act of observing is signified by both, it is, as regards observance, in the sense of holding sacred, whereas, so far as observation is concerned it is in the sense of making examination or careful note. Thus there is an observance of the law, but an observation of the works of nature.

occupancy, occupation: The word occupancy differs only slightly from occupation in meaning. The first refers rather to the state or fact of possession, while the second carries with it an idea of the rights or results of such occupancy. The right or legal fact of occupancy entitles a person to occupation at will. One may speak of the occupancy of a domain and the occupation, not occupancy, of a region by troops.

occur, take place: These terms are not always synonymous. Occurrences are due to chance or accident but things take place by arrangement. Compare transpire.

of: That the force of this word is not fully understood is proved by the fact that many ministers choose to omit it from the title of Scriptural books. Dean Alford in referring to the habit of announcing "The Book Genesis" instead of "The Book of Genesis," says, "This simply betrays the ignorance of the meaning of the preposition of. It is used to denote authorship, as the Book of Daniel; to denote subject matter, as the first Book of Kings; and as a note of apposition signifying which is called, as the Book of Genesis. . . . The pedant, who ignores of in the reading-desk must however, to be consistent, omit it elsewhere: I left the city London, and passed through County Kent, leaving realm England at town Dover." Of is also frequently misused for from. Nothing but custom can justify the common form of receipt, "Received of . . ."

of any: Sometimes used incorrectly for of all; as, "This is the finest of any I have seen; say, rather, "finer than any other, or "finest of all."

off of: The preposition off, when noting origin and used in the sense of from is frequently followed most ungrammatically by of. No well educated person would say "I got these eggs off of Farmer Jones," nor would they "buy a steak off of the butcher" but "of" or "from" him. Off should not be used of a person, where from would suffice. You take a book from, not off, your friend; who may take it off a shelf. You do not even, in correct speech, take a contagious disease off him, as though it were something visible and tangible, and were bodily removed from his person.

official: A term sometimes used incorrectly for officer. An official is one holding public office or performing duties of a public nature; usually he is a subordinate officer; an officer is one who holds an office by election or appointment, especially a civil office, as under a government, municipality, or the like.

of the name of. Compare by the name of.

older, oldest: These terms are, according to best usage, applied only to persons belonging to different families or to things, as, Lincoln was older than Hay; this book is the oldest in the library. Compare elder, eldest.

on is frequently used where in would be preferable. Fitz-Greene Halleck once said to a friend, "Why do people persist in saying on Broadway? Might they not as well say Our Father, who art on Heaven?"

once in a way (or while): A colloquialism for "now and then," better expressed by a single word, as occasionally.

one: Used sometimes as in writing narrative instead of "I," "he," or "a." Bain ("Higher Eng. Grammar") says: "One should be followed by one and not by he (nor for that matter by I or a); as, 'What one sees or feels, one can not be sure that one sees or feels.'" To begin with one and to continue with any one of the substitutes suggested would not only be incorrect but would confuse the reader.

one another. Compare each other.

one-horse: A slang term for "second rate"; implying "of inferior capacity, quality or resources."

only: This word, whose correct position depends upon the intention of the author, is often misplaced. The examples of the uses of only here given will serve to illustrate correct usage. "Only his father spoke to him"; here only means that of all persons who might have spoken, but one, his father, spoke to him. "His father only spoke to him" implies that his father 'only spoke" and did not scold him, which, perhaps, he might have felt his duty called upon him to do. "His father spoke only to him" means that, of all the persons present, his father chose to speak to him alone, but this sentence may perhaps be more lucidly expressed "His father spoke to him only."

on the level. See under level.

on the street. Compare in the street; on.

onto: A word meaning "upon the top of," avoided by purists as colloquial or vulgar. Condemned by Phelps as a vulgarism but now gradually growing in popularity. Inasmuch as its form is analogous to into, unto, upon, all of which are sanctioned by best usage, Phelps's condemnation is perhaps a little premature. The word has been objected to by some critics as redundant or needless. "Considered as a new word (it is in reality a revival of an old form), it conforms to the two main neoteristic canons by which the admissibility of new words is to be decided. (See Hall, Modern English, pp. 171, 173.) It obeys the analogy of in to = into. It may also be held to supply an antecedent blank, as may be shown by examples. It never should be employed where on is sufficient; but simple on after verbs of motion may be wholly ambiguous, so that on to, meaning 'to or toward and on,' may become necessary to clear up the ambiguity. 'The boy fell on the roof' may mean that he fell while on the roof, or that he fell, as from the chimney-top or some overlooking window, to the roof so as to be on it; but if we say 'The boy fell on to the roof,' there is no doubt that the latter is the meaning. The canons for deciding the eligibility of new words appear therefore to claim for on to the right to struggle for continued existence and general acceptance." So says Dr. I. K. Funk in the Standard Dictionary.

0, Oh: Although often used indiscriminately it is generally conceded that "O" is used to express exclamation or direct address while "oh" is used to express the emotion of joy, pain, sorrow, or surprise. See the examples.

"O Mary, go and call the cattle home."
"O God, whose thunder shakes the skies."

"Oh! say, can you see by the dawn's early light"—
"Oh! why should the spirit of mortal be proud?"

open up is properly used to signify "explore; discover; as, to open up a new country," but not so in the sense of "introduce; as, to open up a subject." Here the word up is superfluous; but in this, as in the majority of cases where open up is used, it would be better to substitute a more specific term. See up.

opinion is sometimes more than an impression, being a conclusion or judgment held with confidence, though falling short of positive knowledge. The word should therefore not be used interchangeably with idea, which may be a mere conception, with or without foundation for its belief. One may have an idea of enjoyment, but hold an opinion on the result of a campaign.

or. Compare if; nor.

oral should be differentiated from verbal. The former applies to what is spoken by mouth, whereas the latter indicates that which has been reduced to words.

orate: A term to avoid when "speak, declaim, harangue," or a like word will express what is intended. It may, however, be fittingly used meaning "to play the orator, talk windily in round periods": it meets the canon of "supplying an antecedent blank," and is a legitimate word, especially in humorous or contemptuous use.

ordinance, ordnance: These words have no relation in common. An ordinance is a regulation ordained by some one in authority as a "municipal ordinance." Ordnance is artillery, especially heavy guns, cannon of all kinds, mortars, howitzers, etc.

ornery: A barbarous dialectism for "ordinary" which can not be too severely condemned.

other: This word is often improperly omitted from general comparisons; for instance, "All men are better than he" obviously should be "All other men," etc., as the person excepted of necessity belongs to the class embraced by "all men."

other, otherwise: When these words introduce a clause of comparison they should be followed by the conjunction than, instead of which the words but and except are often erroneously introduced. Than is indeed the conjunction of simple comparison, and should be used after adjectives in the comparative degree. In better usage else is also followed by than, unless the word is introduced, as frequently, without appreciably adding effect to the sentence; as, "She did nothing (else) but weep," though even here the introduction of the unnecessary word would make than the preferable sequence. "He knew no other course than this"—not but or except. "It can not operate otherwise than for good"—not but. "No quicker did he climb the rope than (not but) back he fell."

ought. Compare aught.

ought, hadn't. See had ought.

out of sight: An intense vulgarism for "superb."

over and above, if redundant, is an undesirable expression. Avoid the addition of words to a sentence that fail to add to the sense. "Over and above his debts illness had now to be provided for." It were better to say "In addition to his debts," etc.

over, across: Over is sometimes misused for "across." Do not say "go over the bridge" when you mean across it.

overflowed: The banks of a river may be overflowed; they should never be spoken of as overflown. There is no verb to overfly, but there is one to overflow the participles of which are overflowed, overflowing. The termination—flown used commonly by the illiterate is the past participle of fly. Although flown originally meant "flooded" the word in the sense is now obsolete.

over, not over: Opposed by some writers when used as equivalent to more than, not more than, but defensible as having a tinge of metaphor suggestive of overflowing quantity or overtopping height and having the support of literary usage.

overshoes. Compare rubbers.

over with: Avoid as incorrect all such sentences as, "When the game was over with, we enjoyed a cold collation." Here the word "with" is redundant.

owing. Compare due.

own: Some critics object to the use of this word in the sense of confess, but it is sanctioned by literary usage and dates from the seventeenth century. To own up, or to, in the sense of "to make a full confession" or "to admit unreservedly when challenged" is a colloquialism.