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The Library: Let’s clarify this confusion

Today we look at several words and situations that often cause confusion at best, misunderstanding at worst, and redundancies that compound the problem.


Many people use peruse to mean skim or read quickly or superficially. But it actually means the opposite—to read carefully and leisurely with attention to detail.

Skim is a better more accurate choice if you want to say that you took a quick look or read rapidly but not carefully.

Continually and Continuously

If it rains continually during a 24-hour period, the showers start, stop, start and stop again. That is, there are occasions with a break in the weather.

Continuous rain means that the rain fell nonstop for the entire 24 hours. There was no interruption.

The distinction may not seem important, but if you have a faulty sump pump in your basement, you’ll quickly learn a painful lesson about continuous rain.

Coincidence and Irony

These words are frequently misused. And the distinction, unfortunately, is not as clear as it should be.

Example of coincidence.  You go to a party and everyone there has the same first name Chris.  This remarkable occurrence is coincidence.  But since you had no expectation about names before you entered the party this is not irony.  It’s just a surprising coincidence.

Example of irony.   You go to a meeting of the John Doe society. Every member is named John Doe but the president is Alice Jane. This is the opposite of what you would expect so it’s irony.

Raze and Raise

As a former broadcast journalist, it irritates me every time I hear a news anchor or reporter describe a fire and say the building was razed.

Yes, razed means to destroy. But most of us hearing this homonym immediately think of “raised,” as to lift up or move to a higher location or even build.

In print, it’s easy to see the difference in spelling, but in broadcast we hear the news not read it. Razed is always a bad choice when radio and TV reporters want to say destroyed.

Paris, Moscow and Des Moines

 How often have you seen a motion picture or television show where the opening shot is a panoramic view of an international capital and the name and country on the screen?  Many times.

The other evening I saw the skyline of Paris. The producers insisted on affixing France after the name.  Of course, it was Paris, France.  France was redundant.

Even the residents of the nearly 20 American communities named Paris wouldn’t think the skyline in the TV program was their city.

There is no reason to attach France after Paris.   The only reason to mention any other country or state after Paris would be to clarify that this Paris is not the French capital.

The same is true of Moscow. Our first thought is Russia—not the two score U.S. cities named Moscow including Moscow, Idaho and Moscow, Tennessee.

There are three states with a Des Moines. But if you live in Iowa you don’t need to mention our state. Likewise, most residents of Washington State know their Des Moines as a lovely community on Puget Sound that was home of the first Jarvik artificial heart recipient Barney Clark. No need to mention Washington after the name.

Des Moines is a small New Mexico community that seems proud of its school system.  And I don’t think the students there feel compelled to append New Mexico after their town.

Iowa after Des Moines is only required for clarity if you live in Washington State or New Mexico.

To be continued…

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