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Man with index finger pointed up Get to the Point
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Get to the Point!

This Post Comprises Further Help for Your Systemic Writing Errors

By Theda C. Snyder

Even the best writer can confuse words that sound almost the same — call them sound-alikes. A prior post reviewed many of the most common pairs. Here are some more.

Comprise/Compose. Comprise means “include” or “contain.” So we would say the document comprised the deal terms, a confidentiality clause, and an integration clause; not that the document was “comprised of” those items. Those clauses compose the document, that is, they make up its parts. Word order counts. The whole comprises the parts. The parts compose the whole.

Farther/Further. “Farther” refers to geographic distance. “Further” means “to a greater degree.” “Further argument on the point would be useless” is correct usage. So is “The accident was farther from the intersection than the witness recalled.”

Moot/Mute. A threshold question for courts is whether there is an actual case or controversy or if, perhaps due to the passage of time, the decision wouldn’t make a difference. If the ruling would have no effect, the case is “moot.” “Mute” means “unable to communicate” or “silent.” An event that turns resolution of a conflict meaningless moots — not mutes — it. An arrestee relying on Fifth Amendment rights may remain mute.

“Moot” and “mute” have different pronunciations. Usually, a “u” at the start of a word (like “united”) is pronounced “you” and in the middle of a word like “oo.” But the “u” in “mute” is pronounced with a “y” sound (“myoot”), which may be a reason for the confusion.

Peaked/Piqued/Peeked. Nineteenth century fainting couches were invented to catch ladies succumbing to bad news or just heat. They were “peaked,” a two-syllable word, (accent on the first syllable) meaning “sickly looking” or “ready to faint.” The one-syllable “peaked” is the past tense of “peak,” meaning “to crest”: “The department’s fiscal performance had peaked.” When one’s curiosity is aroused, it is “piqued”: “The exhibit piqued the jury’s interest.” All of this is quite different from “peeked,” like when you were eight years old and saw the Christmas presents that were hidden in the closet on December 21st.

Systemic/Systematic. A problem that affects an entire organization is systemic. An organized method is systematic. “Police officers’ systematic arrests of minority pedestrians were a systemic problem.”

The Proof Is in the Reviewing

As is so often the case with the trickiest writing errors, spell-check won’t catch these mistakes. Good proofreading, perhaps by a second pair of eyes, should.

Illustration ©iStockPhoto.com

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Theda C. Snyder

Theda “Teddy” Snyder mediates workers compensation cases throughout California. She is also available for freelance writing assignments. Teddy has practiced in a variety of settings and frequently speaks and writes about settlements and the business of law. She is a Fellow of the College of Law Practice Management and the author of four ABA books, including “Women Rainmakers’ Best Marketing Tips, 3rd Edition” as well as “Personal Injury Case Evaluation” available on Amazon.com. Based in Los Angeles, Teddy can be found at WCMediator.com and on Twitter @WCMediator.

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