1. Greenville (S.C.) News: “Personal reconnaissance bonds were set for the other two violations.”
Wrong:Reconnaissance n. — An inspection or exploration of an area, especially for military intelligence.
While the violator might have been looking for something personal, the writer failed to explore his mind or the dictionary for the correct word, which is:
Recognizance n. — An obligation of record that commits a person to perform a particular act, such as making a court appearance.
2. The Washington Post wrote about motorists in a certain neighborhood, saying they “flaunt parking regulations.”
Wrong: Flaunt n. — To exhibit ostentatiously or shamelessly; show off.
OK, maybe they went to a meeting and waved the regulations in the faces of politicians, but I don't think so. Here, the correct word is:
Flout n. — To show contempt for; scorn. (Make special note of the advice given in the “usage”comment under flaunt in your American Heritage Dictionary.)
3. Las Vegas Review-Journal on the animosity between the governor and a state senator: “The two men have been protagonists since legislators overrode Miller's veto....”
Wrong: Protagonists n. — The main character in a drama or other literary work; a leading or principal figure, as of a cause.
Maybe they were in a play together? Not! The correct word might be (it's hard to tell without the full context, but my guess is):
Antagonists n. — People who oppose; adversaries; the principal character(s) in opposition to the protagonist.
Even that's not quite right because each would have to be a protagonist, too. How about adversaries? (Adversary n. A person who opposes or attacks another.)
4. Louisville (Ky.) New Voice: “A veto would cast aspirations on the critical faculties of panel members.”
Wrong: Aspirations n. — Desires for achievement.
Ooops, that ain't it (even though that would be a nice thing to do). Is it, perhaps:
Aspersions n. — Slanderous remarks. (?) (OK, in some cases, it means “to spatter” in a negative sense. I'll accept it. But maybe, just maybe, the writer meant something as simple as raise doubts about. It gets my vote.)
5. Indianapolis News editorial: “Parents will simply have to keep a closer eye and more attenuated ear on what their youngsters are being exposed to.”
Wrong: Attenuated n. — To make or become thin or small; to weaken; to rarefy or dilute.
Oh, right! Gotta keep those ears, which keep getting smaller, on those youngsters. That makes no sense at all. How about:
Attentive n. — Concentration of mental powers on an object. (Or, in this context, simply “sharp.”)
6. Spartanburg, S.C., Herald-Journal sportswriter on the prospects for the coming basketball season: “...abstract poverty on the campus of Wofford College.”
Wrong: Abstract n. — Considered apart from concrete existence.
Does that mean the prospects weren't poor?
Abject n. — Miserable, wretched; contemptible, despicable. (But, then, isn't “abject” redundant? Isn't all poverty “miserable, wretched”? Maybe not, but it's a question worth asking before the word is used.)
7. Seattle Post-Intelligencer feature ona novelist who remembered her stay in the hospital: “...waking up to the fecund smell of her own mucus-soaked gauze.”
Wrong: F ecund adj. — Capable of producing offspring or vegetation; fruitful; fertile.
An interesting picture, her giving birth to a baby or sprouting vegetation (broccoli, perhaps). Gosh, call The National Inquirer. Inquiring minds want to know.
Feculent adj. — Full of dregs or fecal matter; foul, turbid or muddy.
Now that sounds better (even if it smells worse, but it's supposed to).
8. Miami Herald feature on a couple charged with misrepresenting themselves as doctors of sex therapy (the story quoted the couple's lawyer): “Fred and Linda were made out to be a couple of harlequins. They didn't do it.”
Wrong: Harlequins n. — Conventional clowns of comic theater, traditionally presented in masks and colored tights; clowns; buffoons.
They must have made a helluvan impression on the judge and jury!
Charlatans n. — People who make elaborate or fraudulent claims to skill or knowledge.
9. The Allison Gas Turbine Co. in Indianapolis published a book on the firm's history. The introduction said it contained “interesting antidotes and many pictures.”
Wrong: Antidotes n. — Agents that counteracts a poison.
OK, I guess, if the book had been bitten by a snake!
Anecdotes n. — Short accounts of interesting or humorous incidents.
10. A Palm Beach Post story on the tolerance among French Catholics toward Archbishop Lefebvre: “There is a long traditionin the French church of harboring schematics....”
Wrong: Schematics n. — A structural diagram.
Well, maybe, if we're talking about harboring architects and engineers, too!
Heretics n. — People who hold unorthodox opinions.
11. Headline in Fredricksburg, Va., Free-LanceStar: Pregnancy after tubal litigation rare
Wrong: Litigation n. — Engaging in or being subject to legal proceedings.
Guess that's why O.J. can't get pregnant?
Ligation n. — Tying or binding.
12. AP reported that golf pro Jack Nicklaus was practicing furiously for the U.S. Open: “He was testing the precocious winds, the stifling rough....”
Wrong: Precocious adj. — Marked by unusual early development or maturity, especially in mental ability.
Well, the wind is called “Mariah” in the musical “Oklahoma.” So, if it's got a name, it must be smart.
Precarious adj. —Dangerous; lacking in stability.
Hey, maybe that's why my golf game is so bad!
Well, there's proof to how foolish we can look when we use the wrong word. It makes everyone look stupid and hurts credibility. And when a publication or broadcast (or individual) loses its credibility, it's lost everything.