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Misused Words

  Fortuitous - Fortunate

The use of the word 'fortuitous' when what is meant is 'fortunate' has become more prevalent over the last few years.

'Fortuitous' means accidental, happening by chance. It does not mean lucky or propitious, as does 'fortunate'.

The worst use I have heard of it recently came from an airline spokesman who described his major airline's escape from the worst commercial effects of September the Eleventh by saying his airline was "a fortuitous company". One of the last things we want is a 'fortuitous' airline!

  Prevaricate - Procrastinate

'Prevaricate' means to make evasive or misleading statements. The evasion going on being that of the truth rather than anything else such as action. Often the word is used correctly but more frequently it seems to me that the person (or Government department) being accused is really being accused of 'procrastination' not lying or misrepresentation.

Although statistically unproven, so far as I know, I believe that we humans have even more talent for the deferment, delay and postponement needed to qualify us as procrastinators than for the lying, equivocation and evasion required for us to be classified as prevaricators.

  Redolent (of) - Reminiscent (of)

Redolence is a strong smell or fragrance from the Latin 'redolere'; to smell strongly. Over many years (at least before the nineteen-fifties) 'redolent of' also took on the meaning, 'reminiscent of'. However, I submit that originally that meaning was meant to denote that of a fragrance being reminiscent of something, such as "The smell of her perfume was redolent of wafting past Night-scented Stocks on warm summer nights at my mother's house."

Unfortunately, I notice that there is a trend towards using 'redolent' when 'reminiscent' is the word required. To me it seems ludicrous to talk about the visual images of a movie being redolent of the works of Eisenstein or the written word of her latest novel being redolent of early Victorian writings.

Both examples have recently been heard on the media from people who ought to know better; literary and art critics! On the other hand... perhaps not.


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