Common Language Mistakes That Undermine Great Writing

3 minute read

Aug 2018: Watch out for these common misuses to avoid compromising otherwise great content.

I’ve spent more time on the title for this one than the content I think. Because I know how infuriating the smug “9 language mistakes YOU are making - you must be a MORON”! style of articles are, and I really don’t want to invite the wrath of the doing-fine-without-your-snarky-grammar-pedantry majority of writers who are indeed doing fine without any of my unwanted interference.

But, having read several chapters of Lynne Truss’ wonderful, readable and funny Eats Shoots and Leaves I now feel compelled to go on a bit about the mistakes everyone else is making.

Really though, I’m writing this to try and gently, politely, helpfully, flag a few common misuses that people who are genuinely great at writing and communicating and properly Know Their Stuff occasionally introduce, and my hope is that these small tips might help others the way many other writers have helped me over the years.


You insure your car or house - with insurance.

You ensure you don’t get stung for your round at the bar by keeping meticulous records of when your friends have, and have not, “got theirs in”.

You can also assure your friends you will never do this again when they call you out on it and threaten to stop inviting you along.


Weary is tired, wary is cautious. You might be weary of being corrected by people on the internet or Twitter, but still wary of physically getting into an actual fight about it.


You might enquire of your kids why exactly they’re playing on their tablets at 3am and whether they think it will really help them concentrate on their 4 Times Tables in the morning.

Inquire is a bit more formal, and leads to perhaps a Government Inquiry - but even sneaky 3am iPad manoeuvres don’t really merit that level of response.


These are commonly mixed up - they’re directional though. I might strongly imply to my spouse that I’ve already taken the dog for a walk and if she chooses to infer from that implication that the little pest no longer needs his daily trundle round the streets that’s fine, everyone wins!


A tenet is a principle or belief: a central tenet of good coding is that you don’t just copy/paste a method from one module into another, for example, and obviously none of has ever done that eh, HA HA, IMAGINE THAT.

However: if I owned a bunch of Silicon Valley apartments and rented them out to coders, and any of the tenants in those properties violated that simple tenet of engineering good practice? Well! They’d be out on the streets, pronto! We’re not having that sort of thing. We’re not animals.


You wouldn’t download music of off BitTorrid would you? BitTorrent though - different ballgame there, much easier.

Torrid is used in a bunch of different ways but usually indicates intensity/difficulty/turbulence, e.g. last year we had a torrid time of it at the Black Friday “7 TVs for £50” event, people were literally stabbing one another in the knees to get in.

A torrent is more of a flow, such as the torrent of colourful abuse one might hurl at the CI server as it enters its 3rd hour of building.


This crops up a lot lately; no idea why. Loose means “not tight”, or to set free. You don’t generally loose your car keys, at least not deliberately, you lose them - and then they’re lost, not loosed.


Java and Spring complement one another nicely - they are a good match. What wonderful synergy - business bulldust word of the year 1997 - that complementary pairing brings!

But if I noticed someone had written 64 DAO Java classes for a Spring application with just 7 DB tables, I don’t think I’d pay them the compliment of saying “Marvellous design you have there! Splendid!” I might even suggest they’ve overdone it with the complimentary beers beforehand at the team’s big recruitment event…


Nothing is more liberating than realising none of your mistakes actually affect the company’s bottom line in any meaningful way.

Affect is what you do, e.g. I might often try to affect my chances of being allowed out to the pub by cooking an unusually tasty meal for the family.

The effect is the outcome: my endeavours for a beer pass might have no effect whatsoever.

You can effect change, meaning “to bring about” change, but of course those of us working in Enterprise Software have long since given up on that!

And with that, I can only hope all this may have a positive effect on your own writing, patient reader who’s got this far, and not affected your reading enjoyment on the Intertubes today too badly…