Confusable words | Sunday Observer

Confusable words

2 May, 2021

Arthritis / rheumatism / lumbago / sciatica
Arthritis is inflammation of one or more joints which swell, become warm to the touch, and are tender and painful on movement. Rheumatism is a non-specific term embracing a diverse group of diseases and syndromes which have in common disorder or diseases of connective tissue and hence usually present with pain, stiffness or swelling of muscles and joints. Lumbago is incapacitating pain lower down in the back. Sciatica is entrapment of the sciatic nerve during its course from the lower back to the leg causing pain that is felt down the back of the leg to the heel and which can lead on to weakness such as foot drop and sensory loss in the lower leg.
Artist / artiste
An artist is a painter or public performer. An artiste is a professional singer, dancer, or actor who performs in a show. According to some authorities, artiste is an inflated term that should be avoided.
Assume / presume
‘Assume’ means ‘to undertake something.’ ‘Presume’ means ‘to take for granted without any proof or reasoning.’
Roger assumed the role of team leader.
From the way he talked, I presumed him to be your boss.
Assurance / insurance
Assurance is technically insurance, especially to provide money when someone dies. Insurance is an arrangement with a company in which you pay them money, especially regularly, and they pay the costs if something bad happens, if you become ill or your car is damaged.
Assure / ensure / insure / promise
To assure someone is to give them confidence or reason to be sure about something. To ensure is to make sure or certain. To insure is to protect against risk or loss. To promise is to undertake or pledge something in the future but it is not a synonym for assure.
Atheist / agnostic
An atheist believes that there is no God or gods. An agnostic insists that it is impossible to know whether God exists or not.
Auger / augur
An auger is a tool for boring holes in wood or earth. Augur means to foresee or presage.
The election results do not augur well for the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Authentic / genuine
The word ‘authentic’ means done or made in the traditional or original way.
I love authentic Indian food.
The word ‘genuine’ is used about a feeling, thing or person that really is what they seem to be.
Experts believe that the painting is genuine.
Authoritarian / authoritative
The word ‘authoritarian’ means strictly forcing people to obey a set of rules or laws, especially ones that are wrong or unfair.
Myanmar is now ruled by an authoritarian government.
The word ‘authoritative’ means behaving or speaking in a confident and determined way that makes people respect and obey you.
The President of Sri Lanka has a commanding presence and an authoritative voice.
Await / wait
The word ‘await’ means ‘to wait for something or someone.’
Several suspects are awaiting trial for robbery.
The word ‘wait’ means ‘to stay somewhere or not do something until something else happens or someone arrives.’
I sat waiting patiently for the wedding to end.
Bacteria / virus / bug
The word ‘bacteria’ is the plural of ‘bacterium’ but is now generally used as the singular form. Bacteria are single-celled micro-organisms. A virus is a sub-microscopic nucleic acid entity. Bug is an informal word meaning ‘an illness that people catch very easily from each other but is not very serious.’
There is a nasty bug going round these days.
Bail / bale
Bail is the money paid into a court to release a person charged with an offence and forfeited if that person absconds.
The suspects were released on bail pending an appeal.
Bale is a large quantity of something such as paper or hay that is tightly tied together, especially into a block.
He carried a bale of straw.
Barmy / balmy
The word ‘barmy’ means ‘slightly crazy.’
That’s a barmy idea.
The word ‘balmy’ means ‘warm and pleasant.’
We enjoyed ourselves on a balmy summer night.
Bath / bathe
As a verb, ‘bath’ means ‘to wash someone in a bath.’
I’ll bath the children.
The word ‘bath’ can also be used as a noun.
She takes a bath every morning.
As a verb, ‘bathe’ means ‘to swim in the sea, river or lake.’
They bathed in the lake.
In everyday English people usually say, they go for a bath or have a swim rather than bathe.
Roy went for a swim in the lake.