Confused Engineering Words: Part Two
Thanks to the wonders of word processing I can enjoy a vocabulary significantly larger than the collection of words I can actually spell. Alas, however, a spell-checker can only get you so far and confusing words has become the new marker of a badly written report. So here is the other half of this series picking out the words most likely to catch-out engineers writing reports.
effect or affect?
A confusion so common that Microsoft Word now tries to check for it; the dreaded ‘effect’ or ‘affect’. As a rule of thumb you can limit yourself to using ‘affect’ only when you want a verb and ‘effect’ when you need a noun. As a quick test, you should be talking about effects (loads), and describing things as affected (structures). In formal language, however, you can use ‘effect’ as a verb, to bring something about as a result; in these cases what you should be effecting is a change.
story or storey?
You probably know the difference between these two words, it’s just a common mistake on last-minute drawings: Authors tell stories and buildings have storeys. In the distant future, however, I will concede that structures made sentient by our continuing desperation for smarter building systems may well have a few stories to share…
alot, alright and atleast?
None of these words are strictly real words; they are all the result of they way people talk. Whilst alot and atleast remain correct only in the realms of YouTube comments, alright has entered the vernacular, albeit reluctantly. This means that you can argue alright is, well, all right to put in your engineering reports; but given the traditionalism of the industry I’d recommend that you avoid it.
discreet or discrete?
Unless they are particularly secretive, loading defined as a number of points is discrete. The former does not really apply to engineering works, which are rarely circumspect or confidential.
shall or will?
I didn’t even know there was a difference between these words until someone pulled me up on it a few years back. Unless you’re being particularly pedantic (imagine; a pedantic engineer…) it officially doesn’t matter, but if you’re describing actions in the future only you (i.e. “I”) ‘will’, everyone else ‘shall’. Unless you’re being emphatic about things, where then you are the only one who (i.e. “I”) ‘shall’, everyone else “will”.
proscribe or prescribe?
It’s words like these that give the English language a bad name. If I prescribe something I’ll be setting out a rule for your to follow, but if I proscribe something I’ll be forbidding you from doing it. Frankly I would use prescribe and prohibit to avoid confusion (proscribe being the realms of formal language in anycase). Just don’t be surprised if proscribing drinking on site causes some unexpected results…
e.g. and i.e.
Of course, we all took Latin (Estne volumen in toga, an solum tibi libet me videre?), and so we all know that ‘e.g.’ stands for exempli gratia (for the sake of example), whilst ‘i.e.’ stands for id est (that is). With this knowledge inherent from our valuable tutelage in ways of dealing with the return of the Roman Empire, it’s easy to distinguish between these two abbreviations: If you’re giving an example, you need “e.g.”; if you’re providing clarification you need “i.e.”.