Tag Archives: confusing words

Do You Know These Confusing Words?

Today we’re going to look at three confusing words that are often used incorrectly. To begin, read the sentences below and decide whether they’re correct:

Disinterested in the speech, several citizens wandered over to the refreshment table.

A full compliment of officers attended the funeral.

The committee is comprised of officers, citizens, and local officials.

ANSWERS: All three are wrong. Here are the corrected sentences, along with explanations:

Uninterested in the speech, several citizens wandered over to the refreshment table. (Disinterested means impartial.)

A full complement of officers attended the funeral. (Compliment means praise.)

The committee is composed of officers, citizens, and local officials. (Or: The committee comprises officers, citizens, and local officials. Comprise means include.)

How did you do? These are three words that every professional should know.

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Oral or Verbal?

You probably hear it as often as I do: “I verbally told him to….” The command might be to get out of the car, open her purse, hand over his driver’s license, or something similar.

But verbal is meaningless in sentences like this. Verbal means “using words.” It’s not a synonym for oral. Verbal communication can include writing, texting, emailing, and writing in chalk on a sidewalk.

When you’re careful to use oral for spoken commands, you portray yourself as a professional – a good thing!

write in blank notebook

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Police Jargon II

Police jargon can make you sound outdated and unprofessional.  Here are up-to-date alternatives. (See also Problem Words I.)

1.  In reference to

Substitute “about.”

2.  Mirandized

This is police jargon. Substitute “I read him his rights from my Miranda card.”

3.  Modify

Substitute “change.”

4.  Numerous

Substitute “many”

5.  Policeman

Substitute “law-enforcement officer” or “police officer.”

6.  Prison guard

“Correctional officer” is the proper term for an officer in a jail or prison.

7.  “I processed the area”

This vague sentence should be replaced with a specific description of what you did: “I recovered two cards of fingerprints on the door frame.”

8.  Residence

Too vague for a report. Be specific: Was it a double-wide mobile home, a house, an apartment, or a condo?

9.  Respective

This is an old-fashioned word that’s almost always unnecessary.

10.  Take cognizance of

Substitute “recognize.”

 

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More Police Jargon to Avoid in Reports

Here are more examples of outdated police jargon and confusing expressions you should avoid in your reports. (For additional examples, click here.)

abovementioned

This old-fashioned, time-wasting word needs to be stored permanently in the attic. Use “this” or, better yet, repeat the name or information.

The abovementioned suspect is now in custody. WRONG

Langford is now in custody. CORRECT

advise

“Advise” refers to giving advice. If you use it that way, advise is a fine word. But don’t use it as a synonym for “tell.”

I advised her to seek medical attention for the cut on her arm. CORRECT

I advised her that I would be returning the next day.  WRONG

I told her that I would be returning the next day. CORRECT

affect

“Affect” is a useful verb meaning “to change.” [Much less commonly it’s also a noun that means emotion.] So why should you avoid affect? Two reasons.

First is the risk of confusing affect and effect. Why take a chance? If you mean change, that’s the word you should write.

I couldn’t affect his decision, so I stopped arguing.  RISKY

I couldn’t change his decision, so I stopped arguing. SAFER

A more serious problem with affect is that it’s vague. It’s better to choose a word that indicates whether the change was for the better or the worse.

The new schedule affected morale.  VAGUE

The new schedule improved morale. BETTER

Rainy days always affect my mood.  VAGUE

Rainy days always make me feel gloomy. BETTER

being that

Never use this clumsy expression. Use because instead.

[Incidentally, being is a perfectly good word that can, however, gum up a sentence. Use it with care.]

I smelled alcohol on his breath

A defense attorney can get you on this one. Alcohol is odorless and tasteless. Say that you smelled “alcoholic beverage” on his breath.

residence

Vague. Use home, condominium, apartment, mobile home.

blue in color

Professional writers avoid empty words. “In color” doesn’t add anything, so don’t use it.

The suspect was wearing a shirt that was blue in color.  EMPTY WORDS

The suspect was wearing a blue shirt.  BETTER

the month of September

Same problem. When is September not a month?

They were married in the month of September.  EMPTY WORDS

They were married in September. BETTER

 

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Police Jargon to Avoid in Reports

Today we’re going to begin focusing on police jargon and confusing expressions you should avoid in report writing. There are two advantages to avoiding these words. First, you’ll sound more up-to-date and professional. Second, your reports will be more specific.

Here’s today’s list:

Ascertained

This clumsy word has two strikes against it. First, it’s archaic. Second, it doesn’t explain how you acquired the information. Better choices are “saw” or “heard.”

Affirmative

“Yes” works better.

At the present time

Use “now” instead–or just leave it out. There’s no difference between “He’s now awaiting trial” and “He’s awaiting trial.”

Baker Acted (as in “I Baker Acted him.”)

This is police jargon and out of place in a professional report. Substitute “I started Baker Act proceedings” or “I took her into custody under the provisions of the Baker Act.”

Contacted

This is too vague for a professional report. In fact it could cause problems in court later on, if you forget exactly how you got in touch with the person. Be specific: I phoned her, I visited him, I emailed her, I taped a note on his office door.

Endeavor

Substitute “try.”

Expedite

Substitute “hurry” or “speed up.”

If and when

Substitute “if,” which covers both words.

In close proximity to

Substitute “near.”

In order to

Substitute “to.”

 

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