Word of the Week 5/19/18


By Annette Rey

Such a tiny word to focus on, you say? Mode? Everyone knows what that means. But, I discovered differently.

If you read this site, you know I offer special encouragement to people for whom English is not their primary language. They need good instruction to help them become writers of correct prose. The following error might be common in someone just learning English, but I find it discouraging that people who have spoken English all their lives still have not paid enough attention to it to use a four-letter word correctly.

The example today is the word mode.

Merriam-Webster describes this word to imply an order or course followed by custom, tradition, or personal preference. It may imply a procedure or method that is individual or distinctive.

As in all languages, nuance and context can tell you the meaning of a word in a sentence. Mode is a noun but the meaning of the word implies action, as in mode of operation. And it implies something not of substance, intangible. That is to say, it is not a concrete thing you can touch.

Here’s the error I spotted:

He was cut from the mode of all the others surrounding him.

What? No. What word do you think should be used there by the context of the other words especially cut from?

The word should be mold. Mold is a solid substance in reality. In this case, not the fungus, but the casing, the container that dictates the shape of the object it holds. Think of casting a statue. Molten iron or some substance is poured into a cast. When cooled they “break the mold” and the art work is revealed.

Hence, the common expression: They broke the mold when they made him.

The mold can also be cut away from the art piece, as the target sentence was trying to say:

He was cut from the mold of all the others surrounding him.

The sentence implies this person was in some way identical to the others around him. This could imply the person is a follower. That’s where nuance enters into the language.

All of us need to be alert to the subtleties of English.

Keep on writing (but always double-check your work), even those nagging four-letter words!



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