In this post:
- Incomplete Comparisons
- Sentence Adverbs (aka Disjuncts)
- Confusables – pairs of words often mistaken for each other.
Some language faux pas are more accepted and much more common in advertising than in regular speech and writing. Incomplete comparisons, like “faster, better, stronger,” which don’t specify what a subject is being compared to, are among those. This is really a misleading argument — simply saying “product X is faster, better, stronger,” is considered an incomplete assertion that can’t be refuted. No wonder it can be an effective marketing tactic!
However, what may work in some advertising is ill-advised in individual business communications, where clarity is particularly important. When making a comparison, it may seem obvious that you should specify both the subject you are featuring and the subject you are comparing it with, but incomplete comparisons are very common. McGraw-Hill’s Mayfield Handbook of Technical and Science Writing gives this example:
“Ever since the early 1960s, when the Corps of Engineers completed the Central and Southern Florida Flood Control Project, the area’s fresh water has been shunted through 1,400 miles of canals and levees, 150 gates and spillways, and 16 of the largest pumping stations.”
Largest where? In the project? In the area? The correct line would end with “…largest in the world.”
Sentence Adverbs (aka Disjuncts)
Language is always evolving, and some types of usage that were unthinkable years ago have gained acceptance over time.
One of those is starting a sentence with an adverb like “hopefully.” Technically, it should be used to modify a verb or an adverb, as in “Joe thought hopefully about his relationship with Sue.” But it’s now also considered a sentence adverb, meaning it can be used to start and modify an entire sentence, as in “Hopefully, we’ll be able to make that sales quota.” (Yes, your high school grammar teacher may shudder, but acceptance of hopefully as a sentence adverb has increased dramatically in recent years.)
The editors of the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary state the use of hopefully as a sentence adverb is now “entirely standard.” Still, some writers avoid using it in formal writing.
Common sentence adverbs (also called sentence adverbials or disjuncts) can modify an entire sentence or a clause within a sentence. For example: actually, apparently, basically, briefly, certainly, clearly, conceivably, confidentially, curiously, evidently, fortunately, hopefully, however, ideally, incidentally, indeed, interestingly, ironically, naturally, predictably, presumably, regrettably, seriously, strangely, surprisingly, thankfully, theoretically, therefore, truthfully, ultimately, and wisely.
If you are writing for a Canadian audience, it’s quite acceptable to start sentences with “As well” or “Also” as sentence adverbs when you want to introduce an additional point; but don’t do it when speaking to British or American audiences. In those cases, start the sentences with alternate options such as “In addition” or “Furthermore.”
Pairs of words which are often mistaken for each other or used incorrectly, from The New American Dictionary of Difficult Words:
Officious/Official – If someone is officious, they are interfering or overly anxious to assist, as in “The officious assistants kept interjecting when we were trying to strategize.” Officious also means unauthorized, as in “My officious opinion is it would be a bad move.” Official means authorized and sanctioned, as in an official NBA jacket, or having to do with a position, as in “the official duties of the CEO.”
Oppugn/Impugn – While both words mean to call into question or argue against, the rarely-used oppugn simply means to oppose, as in “He would oppugn you if you pushed that objective.” Impugn is quite different; it means to argue against something that is false, as in “We will impugn inaccurate statements in the media and prosecute the offenders.”
Palate/Palette/Pallet – Often, when these words are mistaken for each other, it is due to oversight or a spelling error, since all are fairly common. Just to be clear: palate refers either to the roof of the mouth or one’s sense of taste; a palette is a board on which a painter mixes paints and pigments; and a pallet is a portable storage platform, or a small, hard bed.