Oregon State Bar Bulletin — MAY 2009
The Legal Writer
Word Choices IV:
Too Close for Comfort?
By Suzanne E. Rowe

In this column, we continue on our trek through pairs of words that we often confuse. The following pairs are troublesome because they are spelled almost identically or because their meanings are very close (or sometimes both). For each pair, I'll try to offer an example or a mnemonic device to help you remember which is which.

Abjure vs. Adjure
Abjure means to deny something under oath. Adjure means to urge someone to do something. Think of the ``b'' in abjure as backing away. Think of the ``d'' in adjure as directing. The defendant abjured her former confession, while the judge adjured the attorneys not to drag out the trial.

Ability vs. Capability
When discussing people, ability refers to a specific skill, while capability refers to ability generally. For example, my nephew has an uncanny ability to shoot free throws. He has the capability to be the star player for his high school team.

Capital vs. Capitol
The capital is the seat of government, while the capitol is the building where the legislature meets. To keep them separate, remember that Austin is the capital of Texas (following the final ``a'' in capital). Look at the ``o'' in capitol and imagine the rotunda of the building in Washington, D.C. If that doesn't work, consider that you have to enter the capital city before you can enter the capitol building. Alphabetically, capital comes before capitol.

Complacent vs. Complaisant
Most of us mean to use the first of these, most of the time. Complacent means smug or self-satisfied; it's what an attorney might be after winning several lucrative trials. Complaisant means willing to please; it's how most new lawyers appear during their first weeks in the office.

Complement vs. Compliment
To complement is to complete (note the common ``e'' in the second syllable of both complement and complete) or enhance (which begins with an ``e'') by adding something. To compliment is to say something kind (note the common ``i'' in the middle of both compliment and kind).

The adjectives can be more challenging, especially since complimentary means not just kind but free. A complementary lamp would add to the look in the reception area of your office, giving it a completed look. The lamp may be complimentary if the kind decorator gave it to you for free, in appreciation for all the money you'd spend refurbishing two floors of your office building.

Continual vs. Continuous
A continual event is intermittent; it occurs frequently and repeats at intervals. A continuous event is uninterrupted; it goes on and on. Your opponent's discovery requests only seem continuous; they are in fact only continual.

My mnemonic here is a stretch, but it might work. In a continual event, each instance is separate (each discovery request is a separate document). The ``l'' at the end of continual looks a lot like the number ``1.'' The requests come one by one. By contrast, the ``o'' at the end of continuous is like the face of the old-fashioned watch that just kept on ticking.

Deduce vs. Induce
These two are opposites. To deduce, one moves from general clues to a specific conclusion. Think of Sherlock Holmes explaining to dear Watson how he'd solved the mystery. To induce, one begins with specific observations and develops a general rule. Think of Galileo realizing our little planet wasn't the center of the universe.

Desert vs. Dessert
These two words look the same but are pronounced differently — sometimes. The first can be pronounced with either syllable accented. Desert with the first syllable accented is a dry place like the Sahara. Desert with the second syllable accented is a verb that means to run off and leave behind a cause, an army, or a dear person who deserved better. Desert can also be the reward for doing so, as in ``the jerk got his just deserts.''

Dessert is often the main reason to begin dinner. It may be the reward for enduring an interview dinner with an applicant or firm that you've already decided is a bad fit. Think of the lovely chocolate creation waiting at the end. To distinguish desert and dessert, look at the ``s.'' Desert has just one, so it's as lacking in letters as it is in water. Dessert has an extra ``s,'' reminding me that I always want an extra bit of chocolate.

Elicit vs. Illicit
Elicit is an honest action. It's a verb that simply means to draw out information, for example from a client who may be reluctant to tell you the full story. The opening el in elicit means you want the client to tell.
Illicit is a big problem. It's an adjective that might explain why your client is reluctant to share the details of his little scheme. Think of the first syllable making you ill when you realize what your client 0was up to, especially if the scheme was 0ill0egal.

Forward vs. Foreword
Forward is a direction. It ends in ``ward'' as do ``toward'' and ``backward,'' which also suggest motion. Foreword is an introduction to a book, the ``word'' that comes before the rest. It's written by someone other than the author (who would have written a preface instead).

Loath vs. Loathe
These words have different grammatical roles and different definitions, but they may be pronounced the same. Loath is an adjective that means reluctant or unwilling. ``I was loath to skydive, although everyone said it was great fun.'' It is typically said with a softer ``th'' so that it rhymes with ``both'' but it may be pronounced the same as loathe, with a harder ``th'' on the end. Loathe is a verb that means to feel intense dislike. ``I loathe cold weather.''

Nauseated vs. Nauseous
These two are practically synonymous these days. Formerly, nauseated meant you felt sick, while the thing that made you feel that way was nauseous. The strict definitions caused problems when you said ``I feel nauseous.'' Technically, you were admitting that you made someone else feel sick.

Pendant vs. Pendent
I include this pair only because of my fondness for civil procedure. A pendant is a piece of jewelry that hangs around the neck. The non-legal definition of pendent is hanging over (my dictionary suggests ``pendent lichens''?) More interesting to us lawyers is the idea of pendent jurisdiction, which is how you get your related state claim heard in federal court. You certainly wouldn't want to misspell that. Because the two claims must be closely related, you'd expect the same vowel to appear in the two syllables of pendent.

Repetitive vs. Repetitious
Both of these words are adjectives, describing an event that repeats in an annoying or unnecessary way. My sources vary on which has the more negative connotation.

Wherever vs. Where Ever
Typically, we use wherever, meaning any place. For example, ``He'll meet her wherever she says.'' It can also be used in questions (in place of ``where'') to express surprise or confusion, as in ``Wherever did they meet?'' The question suggests that maybe they met somewhere shocking like the middle of the Brooklyn Bridge or a cheap bar on Franklin Street. Technically, where ever appears as two words to emphasize ``where.'' For example, ``Where ever have you been?'' The same rules hold for what ever and whatever. Compare these two: ``What ever shall I write about next month?'' ``I'll write about whatever.''

This series on word choices is continual, though I hope not repetitious in the negative sense. I elicit your suggestions. Don't be loath to contact me with your own puzzling pairs.

The New Oxford American Dictionary
(2d ed. 2005).

The Chicago Manual of Style
(15th ed. 2003).

Suzanne E. Rowe is an associate professor at the University of Oregon School of Law, where she directs the Legal Research and Writing Program. As the Luvaas Faculty Fellow for 2008-2009, she is grateful to the Luvaas Faculty Fellowship Endowment Fund for support of her articles in The Legal Writer.

© 2009 Suzanne E. Rowe

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