Friday, March 19, 2021

Insight: Play on words shows subtle differences

By Ed Pierce

Managing Editor

As someone who works with words for a living, I’ve learned that everyone can use specific terms to interpret different meanings and forms of understanding.

Take the word “hope” for example. To me, hope is a belief that a dire situation or an awful time or experience will improve significantly. Yet being hopeful is different from being “optimistic.”

An optimist can dream of a better life and strive to make it happen, while a hopeful individual focuses on a specific aspect of life, such as hoping to someday fall in love and get married or hoping to get a better job.

Optimists can be the most pessimistic of people and yet also detail for you exactly what they hope to accomplish in life.

In some respects, hope can serve as a prelude to the future or function as a self-expectation about ourselves. While being hopeful about a situation, we express a desire to make something happen and it can lead to self-motivation to make it happen.

Being optimistic though requires little motivation, just a sense that something good lies ahead and it’s probably going to happen.

Other words that writers sometimes tend to confuse, and misuse, is “effective” and “efficient.”

When something is considered effective, it typically means it has accomplished a goal and achieved a desired result. An effective solution solves a problem, an effective vaccine thwarts a virus from spreading, and an effective diet helps weight-conscious individuals shed pounds successfully.

If something is considered efficient, it usually involves the conservation of resources to achieve a desired result. Efficient workers get the job done without overtime, a machine is efficient because it uses less energy while performing essentially the same function as another, and a new efficient method can save time when compared to another traditional way of doing the same thing.

Somethings can turn out to efficient but not effective and vice versa. A new roofing material can be highly efficient for savings when used to cover homes, but not effective because it deteriorates much quicker than other materials.

The same principle applies to using word choices of “benefit” and “advantage” because there is a difference between them.

Both words can be used as both nouns and verbs and each can mean a good thing, yet indeed there is a subtle difference.

Advantage is used to favorably compare one feature or another, while a benefit is a clear idea of something being better than another. For example, studying the driver’s handbook can work to your advantage when you take the driver’s license examination. Extra hints contained in the driver’s handbook can be of benefit to anyone wanting to take the driver’s license examination.

And when you get right down to it, there is a distinction between selecting the word “decision” and the word “choice” which are frequently misused by writers.

Opting to reach a decision implies some sort of analysis or process has gone into achieving a final determination. Making a choice means selecting one method, person, place or thing over another to achieve a final result.

When a business hires a new employee, it means a choice has been made. But it doesn’t necessarily mean it was a carefully thought-out decision.

The whole concept of writing can be filled with minefields for those who stop and ponder the endless realm of word choice possibilities. Many times, similar sounding words can also mean the same thing, but also can differ slightly, heightening word-choice confusion for writers.

Take the words “attain” and “obtain.” They each indicate possession of something has been realized, yet they are indeed different and hold different meanings.

Attain means an objective or goal has been reached. Obtain means something has been physically acquired.

Through hard work and hours of study, a student attained a master’s degree, compared to I was finally able to obtain a copy of the new Miley Cyrus album on

Writers also sometimes struggle to differentiate between “reluctant” and “reticent.”

To be reluctant is to hesitate or be unwilling to do something. To be reticent is to be reluctant to speak up or show emotion.

For example, he was reticent to express his opinions about renovating the attic, compared to because of my fear of rotten floorboards, I am reluctant to proceed with the renovation of my attic.

Every great writer has boundless opportunities when it comes to word choices. I hope I have been effective in displaying the advantages and helping you decide and obtain a greater reluctance when it comes to choosing the right words. <

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