October 8, 2015

Weekly Language Usage Tips: voracious or vociferous (and veracious)?

Posted in veracious/voracious/vociferous at 3:46 pm by dlseltzer

A reader writes:

One question: My teacher always refers to me as a “vociferous reader” when he writes recommendation letters. I always correct him because I think he really means “voracious” instead of “vociferous.” (Unless he truly does think I’m a loudmouth) Thoughts? 🙂

I love this. I love this because it is a classic example…a classic example of what? Hmmm—there doesn’t seem to be a term that clearly corresponds to what is happening here. What is happening is that our reader’s teacher is using vociferous (which means making a lot of noise or clamorous—e.g., he protested vociferously) when he really means voracious (which means having a huge appetite or being very eager for an activity—e.g., a voracious appetite, a voracious reader). He confused one word with another similar—but incorrect—word. So what is the term that expresses that?

Some say it’s a form of aphasia or paraphasia. I disagree because that would imply that it is a neurological condition, and I don’t think the teacher necessarily has a psychiatric or other disorder.

Some say it’s a malapropism because two words are confused. Again, I disagree, because, to me, a malapropism must have some humor associated with it, (e.g., good punctuation means you are not late).

Still to others, it’s a ‘talko’ which they liken to a spoken ‘typo.’ I can’t buy that either since 1) this was written, and 2) there was no misspelling involved—the teacher just selected the wrong word.

My grammar guru, Garner, refers to this as ‘word swapping’ which is accurate but not a formally accepted term. He provides other examples such as using comprise for compose, masterful for masterly, viscous for vicious, etc.

Okay. So it’s a great example of that which is not to be named.

The bottom line: The reader is correct to change the teacher’s writing, and I really hope that the teacher appreciates his student’s attention to detail.

[PLEASE NOTE: There is another word that is often confused with vociferous and voracious—that word is veracious which means honest.]

The message, here, is to be mindful in your writing, and proofread, proofread, PROOFREAD.


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