For all the wordies among our readers, here’s another collection of things to think about. This time, uses of words and how they sometimes conflict. 

The first one involves “flush out” or “flesh out,” which you hear people say when they are referring to adding to the something to make it more complete. The good use is “flesh,” which means adding meat to those bones.

The word “flush” is wrong, because it makes us think of driving something out, like quail out of the bush.

To me, the next one is easy, but not everyone can differentiate between “compliment” and “complement.” Merriam-Webster, the source of my information, says remember complement, with an “e” as the same as complete, with an “e.” Two happy spouses tend to think of themselves as complementing people.

And often, because they complete each other, they receive compliments.

Here’s “proceed” and “precede,” which I seem to find most in obituaries. “He was preceded in death by his wife.” “Precede” means to go before. “Proceed” means to go forward. So the parade proceeds down the street.

You don’t really have trouble with these, do you? I guess some people do, since they are on the list. It’s “accept” and “except.”

To remember, if you need to, think of exception, as whatever has not been referred to previously.

Will you accept that definition?

Next are “then” and “than.” “Then” is when you are talking about a sequence. We will go here, then there.

“Than” is for comparisons. I’d rather have chocolate than vanilla.

Have you ever used either of the next two paired words? Probably not. They are “torturous” and “tortuous.” “Torture,” as it sounds, is something referring to torture, really painful, difficult or unpleasant.

“Tortuous” means something overly elaborate and complicated. Like the twists and turns of a plot. Kin to the word “torque.”

And these, I think, can be easy to confuse. They are “imminent” and “eminent.”

“Imminent,” like immediately, means something about to happen.

“Eminent” means prominent or famous. At UTMB, there are several eminent doctors.

Another tricky pair: “discrete” and “discreet.”

“Discrete” means separate. “Discreet” means something not likely to be seen or noticed. “He made discreet inquiries about the job.”

“Persecute” and “prosecute.” You know these, I’ll bet. To prosecute somebody, you need a legal process. To persecute people, you just treat them cruelly. This column, for instance, is probably persecuting some of you.

You would not think these last two would confuse anybody, yet they do. “Lose” and “loose.” Words related to lose have only one “o.” Like lost, loser and loss.

These cause confusion, according to Merriam-Webster, because of the odd spelling. “Lose” should rhyme with “nose,” but it rhymes instead with “shoes.”

“Loose,” on the other hand, rhymes with words you would expect like “goose,” “caboose,” “moose” and “noose.” All with double “oo.”

Gather up all these loose words and don’t lose your train of thought.

Cathy Gillentine is a columnist for the Daily News and can be reached at

(23) comments

Jim Casey

Writers seem to have an ongoing problem with rein and reign—specifically with the phrases "rein in" and "give free rein to." Both refer to the leather strap used to control a horse.

Reign is a synonym for the rule of a king or queen.

Don't get me started on lie/lay/laid/lain, etc This is a lost cause.

- Jim

Jack Cross

I married an East Texas Gal ,so that language up there was new to me when they started talking about a Whoppie which they called an old car. You would hear one of them ask about someone and they would say, you know " I haven't seen, heard or tell of him. Comming from Galveston in the late 30's and 40s when I was growing up, everyone was a democrat including me who later was a precinct chair, everyone loved Roosefelt and hated Hoover.
They didn't hate republicans because they never saw one or no one dared to say he was a republican. It was the democrats in the South who fought the civil rights movement and started the dixie crats but I have to give the democrats credit for convencing the public that the republicans did all that. The democrats have benifited greatly by receiving about 95 percent of the African American voters who never hold them accountable.

George Croix

Yes, you can persuade a lot of people to believe anything if there's a tangible payout for them in it, or at least the potential for one.
Reagan said it best when he opined that our Democrat friends ...know a lot that just isn't so...

George Croix

The author is talking about the English language.
Speaking Texan has a few differences...[wink]

Jim Casey

I moved to Texas at age 40, so I had some catching up to do. Someone gave me a book with the title "how to speak Southern."

I quit saying "pop" in favor of "soda," but I never could wrap my head around calling every carbonated beverage "Coke."

Also tea, in my book, is hot.

- Jim

Victor Krc

Is "y'all" one word, or two?

Carlos Ponce

I typed "y'all" into Microsoft Word. Under TOOLS I went to Word Count. It reported there was only 1 word in the document. "y'all" is one word.

George Croix

In East Texas I was taught that it was "ya'll", to be pronounced 'yawl', or 'yaawwl', and could be either singular or plural, and was non-gender specific. And, for that matter, not even specifically designated as unique to addressing homo sapiens. Works as well for beasts, birds, reptiles, and even 'progressives' and other non-categorized life forms...[wink]
Also, there is only ONE carbonated beverage...Diet Coke.
All other carbonated liquids are pretenders to greatness, to be tolerated ONLY if no Diet Coke is available, and ONLY if death by thirst is imminent.

Victor Krc

I am glad to know I am not the only Diet Coke junkie out there.

I think the word is used in some middle eastern names like Ibn Y'all Masoud. [beam]

One thing that this column did not talk about was the confusion between "gender" and "sex". For some reason liberals have decided to change the ages -long English language usage of the word "sex" to distinguish male from female to the word "gender" so as to be "non - sexist" (go figure). This is supposedly to purge us from thinking about the obvious differences between the sexes because "gender" it is a more neutral term.

During my school years I was exposed to the Latin (Kirwin High School) and German (U of H) languages, both of which have grammars that assign gender to nouns - masculine, feminine, and neuter. The use of the word "gender" is most proper when used in the context of grammar in certain languages and "sex" when distinguishing male from female, among other things.


George Croix

Liberals are confused about a lot of things, and 'progressives' about everything...[wink]

Yes, I never quite got the concept of a 'female table' .
My reason for taking German was to learn enough to figure out what the bad guys on the old 'Combat' TV show with Vic Morrow were saying.
Looonng ago...

Victor Krc

So a progressive is a liberal on steroids? I was kinda under the impression that since the term "liberal" acquired so many negative vibes in our society and culture that they want now to be known as "progressives".

Sorta like atheists now days want to be called "brights". I think it was either Richard Dawkins or Daniel Dennett that proposed that designation in one of their fairly recent books. I am not sure if this is catching on with our media friends or not.

Would a skunk smell differently if we called it a rose?

Sounds like you and I are of a "certain age". Too bad what happened to Vic Morrow - it was a nasty way to go.

George Croix

Yes, Vic and the poor children he was holding, also.

'Progressives' are on something...for sure...[wink]

At 63, I've yet to have my core values 'evolve', and a spade that belonged to my Dad is still one, having yet to require another descriptive word.
I am blessed that no one in my family feels any need at all to speak PC.... [beam]

Victor Krc

67 and holding (on)....

I forgot what it was like to be your age....[smile]

Mick Phalen

In the coal fields of WVa, "y'all" was the only accepted form for more than one "you". Didn't know Coke, Pepsi, Nehi, RC Cola, by any other name than "pop", and didn't know paper bags were anything other than "pokes".

First time I went "up north" (to the PA border), I found they had bastardized proper English language - changing the correct "y'all" to "you'ns" (they didn't know how to spell it either).

Don't get me started on my first trip to Brookyn ...

George Croix

In the part of East Texas that I stepped on pine cones in, a 'poke' was a tow sack, or burlap bag for the upper crust, or gunny sack for the elites...[smile]
For the folks who didn't use the All Encompassing 'Coke', there was 'soda water'... pronounced soda warrter, or for the way-back-in-the-woods folks, 'sody waarrter'.
Then, we washed clothes with 'warshing powwder'.
Changed the 'awl' in our trucks.
And, things we were unfamiliar with were 'unnewzhul', or unusual for the picky.
If we were going to visit out parents at their home, we were going to 'mammanems'.
If we were asking if someone wanted to do something, it was 'yawntto?'
The affirmative reply was 'iiiite'.
The negative 'naaww'.
Is it any wonder I suck at writing and spelling...[wink]

Carlos Ponce

Only a True Texans would use the phrase "fixin' to". " I'm fixin' to go work", I'm fixin' to go shopping", etc. Pardon me, I'm fixin' to go vote.

Victor Krc


George Croix

Is there some other way to indicate preparation to do something besides saying 'fixin'?
In this country, I mean...

Victor Krc

I'm gonna.......

I'm gunna.....


Carlos Ponce

" I am going to", " I'm preparing to", or even "I'd like to".
If a preference is involved, "I would prefer to". Followers of Al Capp say "I druther".

Victor Krc

Here I go again...

When I hear "fixin' to" it usually means to me that whatever is being spoken about is going to happen within a short period of time with a high probability of occurrence.

When I hear "gonna" or "gunna" I think back to those happier mists of time when my son was a teenager. He used "gonna" or "gunna" when the topic of conversation was his schoolwork and when he was going to start working on it. Usually the time period that elapsed before he started was indefinite and the probability of occurrence at all was just short of 50 - 50.

Steve Fouga

Depends on what part of Houston you're from. In the part I came from, about half the population said "I'm gonna" when they meant "I'm going to." The other half said "Imo," pronounced eye-mow, as in "Imo kick yo @ss."

Can't remember if it was Bill Cosby, Richard Pryor, or Eddie Murphey who first pointed this out to the world at large.

George Croix

Ever notice how many of those potential 'kickers' really just want to talk loud, then retreat, declaring victory...?
Future politician material, all...[beam]

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