January 7, 2010
Language Tips; neglect or negligence & burnt or burned
Happy New Year!
Tip 1: negligence or neglect
A reader writes:
Thank you for creating this wonderful blog. It has helped me, and I’m sure countless others to better understand and correct their everyday errors in an easy-to-read and amusing fashion.
I also have a quick question. What difference do you see between neglect and negligence? I see negligence as mistreatment of inanimate objects and seems most fitting in a legal context whereas neglect has connotations of prolonged mistreatment and that the mistreatment is directed toward a human (or other creature). What do you think?
First, let me thank you for your very kind words. As to neglect and negligence, you are a little bit right and a little bit wrong. Let me explain.
In general, the words are synonyms. Both mean the act of being remiss in taking care of something. Interestingly, the two words have different origins. Negligence comes from the Latin neglegentia, meaning ‘carelessness, heedlessness,’ and neglect comes from the Latin neglectus, meaning ‘to make light of, disregard.’ Both can be used in reference to both people and things.
I’ve been so busy, I’ve been neglecting my homework.
I went out to see my friends, and I neglected to feed the dog.
I was negligent when it came to attending to the plant.
Some might call leaving a child to fend for himself negligence.
However, the differences are apparent when the words are used in their legal sense.
When used in legal terms, according to Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of Law, neglect means ‘a disregard of duty resulting from carelessness, indifference, or willfulness; especially : a failure to provide a child under one’s care with proper food, clothing, shelter, supervision, medical care, or emotional stability.’ According to the same dictionary, negligence, when used in a legal sense means ‘failure to exercise the degree of care expected of a person of ordinary prudence in like circumstances in protecting others from a foreseeable and unreasonable risk of harm in a particular situation.’ it often refers to neglect of a building. So when it comes to legal terms, neglect is usually used in reference to people, and negligence is usually used in reference to things.
In researching this, it was fun to see all the ways negligence is used in law.
There’s comparative negligence, contributory negligence, criminal negligence, gross negligence ordinary negligence, passive negligence, simple negligence, and slight negligence.
You’ve got to love the law.
Tip 2: Burned or burnt
For some, late December and January means that it’s holiday time, and it’s a time of festivity and relaxation. For others of us, who live and die on the acquisition of grants, it’s about as far from the holidays as you can get. This year has been particularly brutal. So, last night, after working 12 hours straight, when I got an e-mail asking me to review yet another grant proposal right away, I responded that it would have to wait because I was burned out. I felt bad because I hate to let anyone down. Then I wondered, should it be burned or burnt. Was I burned out or burnt out?
Oh, the things we think about when there are no other thoughts to be had.
It turns out that both words are correct. In the UK, burnt is used most commonly. In the US, burned is used most frequently, and burnt is used primarily as an adjective.
I burned the supper, so we will have burnt vegetables tonight.
So that’s pretty simple, but I’ll tell you this, last night, whether I was burned out or burnt out, I was toast.