Words I change even though I don't have to

Language is ever-evolving, and “loose” usage isn’t wrong. But as an editor, I often opt for traditional, stickler-approved uses just because they seem more appropriate to published works. Here are some of the terms I change even when they’re not technically wrong.

Peruse. If you’ve ever talked about casually perusing titles at a bookstore, you’ll be surprised to learn that you were probably offending traditionalists. The primary definition of “peruse” isn’t to read casually or passively. It’s to study closely, with plenty of attention to detail. Its secondary meaning is, in fact, to skim or read passively. But in my work, I like to steer clear of offending tough audiences.

Towards. This word is perfectly fine with an s at the end — unless you’re writing in Associated Press style. In that case, “toward” is the only correct option.

Adverse. If you say, “I’m not adverse to that idea,” you’ll raise eyebrows. In strict usage, if you dislike something or find it repugnant, you’re “averse” to it. “Adverse” means harmful or unfavorable, like adverse effects from a drug. I stick with this distinction when I’m editing.

Myriad. There’s an old myth that “myriad” isn’t a noun, it’s an adjective. If that were true, you couldn’t say “a myriad of styles” because there it’s a noun. You’d have to say “myriad styles,” using it as an adjective. Though I’ve since learned better, I once fell for this myth. So I got in the habit of avoiding “myriad” as a noun. Bonus: This cuts down on wordiness.

Since. “Since” can mean “because.” But this can be a little confusing: “Since you met Steve, you know he’s nice.” For the first half of that sentence, it’s unclear whether you’re talking about the period of time since you met him. Swapping out that “since” for “because” eliminates that chance of confusion.

There are more. Read about "enormity," "that vs. who," "that vs. which" and "sex vs. gender" in my recent column.

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