Misunderstood words that trip up writers

They sound similar and even share similar meanings—and that’s what makes these words so dangerous.

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Do you remember being an adolescent and feeling like no one understood you?

Well, this column is about words with definitions that are continually misunderstood, misinterpreted, and misconstrued. They are the middle schoolers of our lexicon.

Arbitration, mediation

Arbitration means a third party listens to evidence from all parties and hands down a decision. Example: “The contract called for arbitration by a federal judge.”

Mediation means a third party listens to the evidence from all parties and brings them to an agreement. Example: “The plaintiff agreed to try mediation one last time.”

Carat, caret, karat

Carat is a unit of weight for precious stones, equal to 200 milligrams. Example: “Can you measure rhinestones in carats?”

A caret is a V-shape proofreader’s symbol indicating something is to be inserted. Example: “Carets should be placed within the text, not in the margin.”

Karat is the proportion of gold used with an alloy. Example: “Pure gold is 24 karat.”

Capital, Capitol

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