Thursday, January 12, 2006

Commonly Confused Words

The Star, 12 January 2006

Eh Poh Nim is visiting her friend, Clara, who has had an operation to remove her tonsils.

“How are you, Clara?” Eh Poh Nim asks.

Clara writes on a notebook and hands it to Eh Poh Nim to read.

“It’s been a week since the operation. The pain has eased up but I don’t want to talk too much. Such averse luck! Last month a snatch thief stole my bag, now this.”

Eh Poh Nim says, “I feel very odd having this one-sided conversation with you. So I’m going to write down my reply. Here, give me the pen, please.”

She writes, “The word you want is adverse for unfavourable. Averse means unwilling as in I’m averse to chatting up men with mosquito brains. Anyway, look on the bright side. You can eat all the ice cream you like without feeling guilty.”

Clara scribbles, “You’re so wicked! That’s a complement.”

“If you want to praise me, you should give me a compliment. Complement is that which makes something complete, e.g. Mindy’s dish-washing skill complements her husband’s cooking talent.”

“Sorry. I think my brain is effected by the operation.”

“Your brain is affected by the operation. Effect is a result of an action. For example, the price increase of vegetables has an unhealthy effect of turning people into meatarians.”

Just then, Clara’s mother walks out from the kitchen. “Hi, Eh Poh Nim. So nice of you to visit Clara. I’ve boiled some red bean soup. Would you like some?”

“No thanks, Auntie. I’ve had lunch.”

“Ok. If you change your mind, just let Clara know.” She goes upstairs.

Clara writes on the notepad, “So what if you’ve had lunch? Take the soup as desert.”

“How can I drink sand? The Sahara is a desert. Red bean soup is a dessert.”

“Ha ha. I stand corrected. How was your company trip to Port Dickson last week?”

“Remember Paul?”

Clara nods her head eagerly.

“A sexy woman was sunbathing at the pool deck, so Paul dived into the deep-end to show off. But he floundered and almost drowned. A life-guard had to jump in and save him,” Eh Poh Nim writes.

“Lucky for him. Is flounder the right word? Shouldn’t it be flounder?”

“It’s correct. Flounder is to move clumsily. Founder is to stumble or fail completely.”

“Ok. Did you chafe him later for his bravado?”

“Clara! I did not!” Eh Poh Nim says indignantly.

“Oops. Sorry. To chafe is to warm by rubbing. Correction: Did you chaff him? Tease him in a good-humoured way?”

“That I did. I’m loath to admit this but I actually felt sorry for Paul when I saw the life-guard doing CPR on him.”

“Don’t you mean loathe?” Clara writes.

Loathe is to feel great hatred for someone. Loath is unwilling. I know my English, Clara.”

Clara mimes wiping sweat off her forehead. “English can be so confusing sometimes. For example, I can never differentiate between stationary and stationery.”

Stationary is not moving, stationery includes writing objects, paper clips, staplers, etc. Just remember NA for no action and ER for eraser.”

“Great idea. How about that word which means not showy. Is it discreet or discrete?”

“Not showy is discreet. Discrete is to be individually distinct as in ‘The company consists of four discrete units.’”

“How to remember it?”

“Remember this rhyme – double E, not showy. Oh dear, all this writing is making me hungry now. How about some red bean soup for desert?”

“DESSERT!” Clara writes in big letters.

Eh Poh Nim winks at her friend and pulls her up from the sofa.

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