5 word misuse memes to watch for

  1. As such
  2. Within instead of in
  3. Fulsome
  4. Predominately instead of predominantly
  5. Reactionary instead of reactive
  6. About the Author

You’re editing a wide variety of content from different clients—web pages, reports, speeches—and one of the writers misuses a word or phrase. You fix it and move on. Then you see the same mistake by another writer, from a different organization, in a different document. You start keeping track, and you see the word misuse over and over again. What is going on?

What you have here is a language meme. Geneticist Richard Dawkins coined the term in his 1976 book The Selfish Gene, noting that sometimes cultural items, such as fashion or songs, spread like wildfire through a culture. Today we call it “going viral.” This happens with word usage as well. People who do a lot of reading and writing, especially in their job, tend to emulate the writing of their colleagues and superiors. A new usage can move quickly from one writer to another.

But that’s a problem if the usage is wrong. Editors need to launch an all-out frontal assault to get such a viral misuse stopped. I should acknowledge, though, that sometimes the meaning of a word or term changes. Earlier in my career, I tried to argue with a writer who was using “timely” to mean “prompt” or “on time,” which was incorrect at the time but is now considered acceptable. The meaning of “timely” changed.

So I want to tell you about misuse memes that I’m seeing these days, with the proviso that these misuses may become a new use. If you’re a writer, try to avoid these misuses; if you’re an editor, please fix them.

As such

Let’s talk about how to use “as such” properly. To quote the Collins Cobuild English Dictionary for Advanced Learners, “You use such to refer back to the thing or person like the one that you have just mentioned.” 

The dictionary’s example of “as such” is, “There should be a law ensuring products tested on animals have to be labelled as such [products tested on animals].”

Here’s an example I use: “She is an epidemiologist. As such [an epidemiologist], she understands how diseases spread.”

“As such” should be used to avoid repeating something such as a person’s role. 

But this is how I am seeing it used: “Existing Product Listing Agreements are not reflected in the table and, as such, the table may not represent the actual costs to public drug plans.” What the writer means is not “as such” but “as a result.” I’m regularly changing misuses of “as such” to “as a result” or “consequently.”

We should all ensure that word misuse is recognized as such and corrected.

Within instead of in

“Within” means something is inside, surrounded by, something else—“we loved the old cottage and the faded furniture within it.” You can also say that someone “operated within the rules.” Or that you were “within 10 metres of David Bowie.” Or that you plan to have your kitchen renovated “within five months.”

But “within” should not be used as a fancy way of saying “in.” I have no idea how this got started, but I’m seeing it everywhere. Why? What’s wrong with “in”? 

Here’s an example: “The Chair fills a gap within existing expertise at the institution or in Canada.” The term everyone knows is “fills a gap in.” Writing “within” when “in” does just fine comes across as pretentious.

This is how I decide: If I can substitute “in” for “within” and it is still clear or even clearer, it should be “in.”

Fulsome

“Fulsome” means expressions of praise, apology or gratitude that are exaggerated and sound insincere. It is used almost exclusively in the phrase “fulsome praise.” For example, “She laid on fulsome praise with a trowel.”

But this is how it is currently showing up:

“The diversity of representation and rich experience of Expert Panel members brought broad perspectives and fulsome dialogue to the process of developing indicators for measuring adaptation and climate resilience in Canada.”

These writers are using “fulsome” to mean “full” or “comprehensive.” But that’s not what it means. 

This is one of those new uses that may signal a change in the meaning of the word. For the time being, though, I’m fighting the good fight—“fulsome” means only one thing and should not be used in any other sense.

Predominately instead of predominantly

As a verb, to “predominate” is to be the majority: “In this neighbourhood, well-paid professionals predominate.” As an adjective, the “predominant” thing is uppermost, most important or conspicuous: “The predominant issue during the pandemic is health care.” As an adverb, “predominantly” means most important or noticeable: “Elementary school teachers are still predominantly women.”

But I’m seeing writers use “predominately”—a word that doesn’t exist—to mean “predominantly.” I think this is just an error—the original writer who made this error was searching for the adverb, but grabbed the verb and added an -ly. It became a meme and is now everywhere.

So, just for the record, it’s “predominantly.” 

Reactionary instead of reactive

When I talked to a client about this one recently, she told me she was seeing it fairly often. But there’s no wiggle room on this one—it’s dead wrong.

The word “reactionary” means a “person or group [who] tries to prevent changes in the political or social system of their country.” It is used most often in discussing the Russian Revolution, in which those who opposed the Revolution were called “reactionaries.”

Here’s an instance from the Encyclopedia Britannica: “The tsar’s reactionary policies, including the occasional dissolution of the Duma, or Russian parliament, the chief fruit of the 1905 revolution, had spread dissatisfaction even to moderate elements of the nobility.”

But here’s how I saw it used recently: “There are significant challenges with meaningful public engagement in the adaptation process. For example, engagement opportunities may be reactionary and conducted only after a planning process has been initiated and/or after major decisions have already been made.”

The word that the writer wanted was “reactive,” the opposite of “pro-active.” Nothing to do with the Russian Revolution, you will note.

So, “reactive.” Unless you mean trying to reverse social and political change.


We’d love to hear other language memes that you’ve found while editing or writing, so let us know in the comments! Were they correct but a little odd, or misuse memes as outlined above? Do you see any patterns, such as the writers’ ages, target demographic, or industry?

About the Author

Carolyn Brown is a Certified Professional Editor and Editor in the Life Sciences. She has edited a wide variety of material for 40 years, specializing in scientific and medical publications for the past 30 years. She is the author of the chapter on citation in Editing Canadian English 2nd edition and a perennial seminar leader.

September Social at Editors Ottawa-Gatineau

We’re beyond excited to announce that we will be having an in-person social this year to welcome back members and ring in the autumn season.

There will be food and a cash bar, great conversation, and door prizes!

Date: Saturday, September 24, 2022

Time: 1pm to 4pm EDT

Location: The Bridge Public House (1 Donald Street)

We will be gathering on the rooftop patio on the second floor.

There is free on-site parking. Nearest bus transit options are 12141519.

Cost:

  • Free for Editors Ottawa-Gatineau members
  • $20 per non-member

Accessibility: There is a ramp at the side of the building and a full flight of stairs with handrails to the rooftop patio. The location does not include elevator access.


We hope to see you on September 24! Please email publicrelationsog@editors.ca to RSVP.

Seminar: Stylistic Editing with Carolyn Brown – September 21 and September 22

This seminar is offered through Zoom over two days (Wednesday and Thursday) between 9am and 12pm EST.

Are you thinking about writing Editors Canada’s Stylistic Editing exam this November? Do you want to improve your editorial judgment with guidance from an experienced editor? Check out this timely virtual seminar offering from Carolyn Brown: Stylistic Editing, taking place on September 21 and 22.

This online seminar will involve lively discussions, tales from the trenches, and hands-on exercises. The content is based on the Editors Canada standards for stylistic editing, but this seminar will also look at how stylistic editing is done in a variety of publishing settings.

Whether you edit novels, reports, websites or magazines, stylistic editing is a key skill. It is the domain of those editors who want to communicate: to get the message from the author to the reader accurately, honestly, and even elegantly. It also relies on developing that rare commodity, editorial judgment.

Expectations for stylistic editing vary widely. How can editors adapt to the needs of their employers and clients? We’ll go over the context for stylistic editing, judgment in approaching editing decisions, the toolkit for stylistic editing and communicating with authors.

What we’ll cover

The context for stylistic editing:

  • Who are the readers, and how does that determine the approach to stylistic editing?
  • What is the medium, and how does that affect the approach?
  • What is the purpose, and how does stylistic editing help communicate that purpose?

Judgment in approaching editing decisions:

  • Paragraph-level decisions (length, structure, logical flow, connection with other paragraphs)
  • Sentence-level decisions (length, sentence construction, logical flow, connectors, as well ascommon problems such as passive voice, noun strings, etc.)
  • Word-level decisions (word choice geared to readers, omission of unnecessary words)

The stylistic editing toolkit:

  • Subordination and coordination
  • Affirmative constructions
  • Judicious use of passive voice
  • Disentangling noun strings
  • Resolving ambiguity
  • Strengthening verbs and correcting nominalizations
  • Reorganizing paragraphs and sentences
  • Gentle rewriting
  • Working with visuals (illustrations, photos, tables, graphs)

Communicating with authors:

  • When and who to query
  • Using Comments to query
  • Whether and when to use Track Changes 
  • Amount and level of editing
  • When to honour the author’s voice

Join us for an enriching and informative day devoted to our craft with a skilled professional guiding us along the way!

About the Instructor

Carolyn Brown is a Certified Professional Editor and Editor in the Life Sciences. She has edited a wide variety of material for 35 years, specializing in scientific and medical publications for the past 25 years. She is the author of the chapter on citation in Editing Canadian English 2nd edition and a perennial seminar leader.

Seminar: Stylistic Editing with Carolyn Brown

Schedule: Wednesday September 21 and Thursday September 22

Time: 9:00 am – 12:00 pm EST

For any other information, please contact seminarsog@editors.ca, such as how to take advantage of student discounts on professional development seminars.

Looking for more professional development opportunities? See what other seminars are coming up and register today, before it’s too late! Our online seminars are live events and will not be recorded as webinar courses.

Registration Fees

Members: $225 + tax
Non-members: $350 + tax
Student members: $150 + tax

Not yet a member? Check out Editors Canada to see if membership is right for you.

Cancellation policy

If Editors Ottawa-Gatineau cancels a seminar, we will refund your paid registration fee in full.

If you wish to cancel your registration, the following terms apply: You must send an email to seminarsog@editors.ca to notify us that you are canceling your registration. If you cancel before registration closes (up to one week before the seminar) we will refund 50 percent of your paid registration fee. If you cancel after registration closes (within seven days of the seminar), no refund is possible.

Contact seminarsog@editors.ca for all seminar registration and cancellation enquiries.