A couple of weeks ago I tweeted a link to an article 20 misused English words that make smart people look silly — Quartz that I thought was somewhat dated. It listed commonly confused word pairs of about fifty years ago. But there were a lot of words missing from the list that are commonly confused today.
I can’t remember when I last heard or saw anyone confuse accept and except. But I read and hear people confusing deny and refute every week.
When an election is in the offing, I hear newsreaders on radio and TV talking every day about people who are “illegible to vote”. That may be a pronunciation error, but it certainly creates confusion in the minds of listeners and viewers.
And even policemen are now apparently beginning to confuse perpetrators with suspects. Surely they should be trained to know the difference.
- Deny — to deny something is to asset that it is not true.
- Refute — to refute something is to produce evidence that it is not true.
It is sad to see the way the media connive at politicians’ lies when they report that they “refuted” something when they only denied it.
For more on the deny-refute difference see here: Rebut, Refute, Deny
- Perpetrator — someone who has done something bad, like committing a crime
- Suspect — someone who as been identified as the possible perpetrator of a crime
Bear in mind that speaking of “an unknown suspect” is a contradiction in terms. It means you think you know who did it, but you don’t know who it is. The perpetrator is someone who commits a crime, whether known or unknown. A suspect is someone you think was the perpetrator.
The difference between deny and refute also shows up another difference, but this time between US English and most other dialects of English, where the term moot point has almost opposite meanings.
If you deny something and I don’t accept your denial, it becomes, in my South African English, a moot point — that is something debatable, on which we may agree to differ, but differ nonetheless. If, however, you refute it, there can be no further debate, and it ceases to be a moot point, that is, it is no longer open to debate.
In US English, however, the meaning of moot point is almost the opposite: a moot point is not something open to debate, but rather something not worth debating. Something to beat in mind when you read something by authors using a different dialect of English from your own. Eish!