Commonly confused words, vol. 1

#1: Flaunt/Flout
Question:
If you treat convention with disdain, are you flouting or flaunting the rules?
Answer:
Flouting
How to Remember It:
Think of whistling – or actually, playing the flute – instead of doing what’s expected.
Why? Because flout probably originates in the Middle English word flouten, “to play the flute.” It’s not clear how a word for playing the flute evolved into a synonym of mock and insult (the original meaning of flout), but here’s a guess: in the hands of some entertainers, the flute can project a teasing, even mocking, carefree air.
By the way, using flaunt in sentences like the one above is now standard, although many folks still consider it incorrect.

#2: Affect/Effect
Question:
Does the weather affect or effect your mood?
Answer:
Affect
How to Remember It:
The simplest distinction is that affect is almost always a verb, and

effect is usually a noun.
It may help to remember that the verb – the “action word” – starts with “a”: affect is an action.
These words are frequently confused, partly because their meanings are related.

#3: Desert/Dessert
Question:
If you receive an appropriate punishment, did you get your just deserts or just desserts?
Answer:
Just deserts
How to Remember It:
This word is unrelated to deserts of the sand and cactus kind, and it isn’t about the desserts that provide a sweet finish to a meal.
Instead, this deserts comes from the same word that gave us deserve. (Oddly, it’s pronounced like desserts.)

#4: Stationary/Stationery
Question:
Do you buy your writing paper in a store that sells stationary or stationery?
Answer:
Stationery
How to Remember It:
For one, consider the histories of these words.
Stationery comes from stationer, a word that in the 14th century referred to someone who sold books and papers. What the stationer sold eventually came to be referred to by the noun stationery (“materials for writing or typing” and “letter paper usually accompanied with matching envelopes”).
Meanwhile, the adjective stationary has always been used to describe what is fixed, immobile, or static.
Here’s another way to remember it: stationery is spelled with an “e,” like the envelopes that often come with it.

#5: Flak/Flack
Question:
If you’re getting shot at by antiaircraft guns, or receiving unfriendly criticism, are you taking flak or flack?
Answer:
Flak
How to Remember It:
Although flack is an established variant, the more foreign-looking flak is the original spelling and the better choice. Flak was originally a German acronym for Fliegerabwehrkanonen – from FLieger (“flyer”) + Abwehr (“defense”) + Kanonen (“cannons”) – which basically means “antiaircraft gun.”
That use of flak in English dates back to 1938. In the decades after the war it took on its civilian meaning of “criticism.”
(A flack, meanwhile, is a PR agent or someone who provides publicity.)

#6: It’s/Its
Question:
The car won’t start because its battery, or it’s battery, is dead?
Answer:
Its
How to Remember It:
The word it’s means “it is” or “it has,” while its means “belonging to it.”
In the sentence above, “it is battery” or “it has battery” doesn’t work – so the correct version has to be its.
Similarly, in the sign shown here, “it is/has accessories” and “it is/has enclosure” don’t make sense, so it’s wasn’t the right choice.

#7: Pore/Pour
Question:
When you’re attentively studying, are you poring over or pouring over the materials?
Answer:
Poring
How to Remember It:



Commonly confused words, vol. 1