As language evolves, word meanings can change. It’s good to stay abreast of new uses of existing words, but it’s also smart to recognize that what appears to be revised standard usage might not be accepted in all circles.
Be sure you know the differences in these four sets of words. My ruthless editor radar confirms they’re easy to misuse!
1. champing at vs. chomping at the bit
To champ at the bit refers to a horse making a chewing or grinding action with a bit in its mouth. A horse champing at the bit is assumed to be impatient or eager to get moving.
To chomp means to bite something several times in a noisy way.
The bit, the metal mouthpiece of the bridle by which a rider controls a horse, in reality is positioned behind the horse’s teeth. The horse does not actually chomp on, or chew on, the bit.
Despite their differences, champ and chomp have become fairly interchangeable. A person chomping at the bit is considered eager to begin or is showing impatience while delayed.
Careful writers and speakers, however, don’t use chomping at the bit for either people or horses — especially in the presence of equestrians.
Seabiscuit began champing at the bit the minute the jockey got in the saddle.
chomping at the biteager to leave for vacation.
Carl chomped on popcorn throughout the movie.
2. moot vs. mute point
A moot point is one of no consequence or importance; it’s something hypothetical, pointless or no longer relevant.
Something mute is silent or without sound. To mute also can mean to deaden the sound.
They settled out of court, so the need to hire an attorney was a moot point.
She remained mute on the need to hire an attorney.
Please mute your phone during the meeting.
3. redact vs. retract a point
When you redact something, you make it obscure. Picture a written statement by someone who witnessed a crime. It might have names or addresses crossed out with a heavy marker to protect confidentiality.
When you retract something, you take it back. A politician who makes an untrue claim might be pressured to retract the statement.
Sensitive information was redacted before the document was made public.
If you don’t retract your ridiculous claim, you’ll surely be sued.
4. uncharted vs. unchartered territory
Uncharted means unexplored or not mapped. Most often, it’s used in relation to territory or water. However, it can be used metaphorically (see beagle example).
A charter is a document that defines an entity’s rights and privileges, so unchartered means lacking such an official paper. Unchartered also could imply lawlessness or lack of regulation.
They paddled their canoe into uncharted Canadian boundary waters.
Our new club is unchartered, but we hope to have documentation in order soon.
Training our new beagle puppy has us in uncharted territory.
If you found these examples helpful, how about trying my FREE monthly column: Killer Tips from a Ruthless Editor. Sign up at the top of the page, and an email notice will hit your inbox early each month with a link to useful information on word and punctuation use.
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