Using the right words matters. Using the wrong words can matter even more.
Especially when you're trying to impart the seriousness of your message. To make a great impression. To keep the focus on the meaning of what you write or say, instead of losing that focus because of how you say it.
After all, even just one incorrectly used word can ruin everything.
Unfair? Absolutely -- but no less true.
Here are some ways to make sure that doesn't happen to you.
Simple and simplistic
Simplistic sounds fancier than simple. (Just like cabinetry sounds fancier than cabinets.)
Unfortunately, it's not. Simplistic means treating a complex issue, situation, or problem more simply than justified. While you might think telling your employees you've developed a simplistic fix for a long-term problem sounds cool, what you're really saying is that you're slapping on a Band-Aid after giving the issue little thought.
Simple rule of thumb? Use simple as a form of praise. Use simplistic when you feel sufficient thought has not been applied.
And never say "overly simplistic." That means something is too too simple.
First come, first served and first come, first serve
While first come, first serve sounds present or future tense, it also implies that the first to come is the first to perform service. (Which is also logical; if I'm the first to show up at work, I'll likely be the first to help customers.)
If you want to indicate the order in which you will serve people, use first come, first served.
And make sure you stick to it: Few things upset customers more than when others get to cut in line.
Appraise and apprise
Appraise has a specific meaning: to determine the value of an item. (Typically by someone licensed or certified to perform that valuation.)
Apprise is a fancy way of saying "inform." Like, "Please be apprised that you wrote 'do diligence' instead of 'due diligence.'"
So don't use it. Instead of saying, "I need to apprise you of the fact ... " just say, "I need to let you know ... "
Because simple -- not simplistic -- always wins.
Due diligence and do diligence
A startup founder friend entertaining investment offers from VC firms recently forwarded an email from one who said they would need to "do diligence on company financials."
Innocent -- or autocorrect -- mistake or not, "If they screw up something like that," he said, "clearly they don't know what they're doing."
Diligence is a noun. The VC firm can't "do" it.
But they can perform due diligence by undertaking a comprehensive appraisal of the business in order to establish its assets and liabilities and evaluate its commercial potential.
Home and hone
Granted, saying you will hone in on a solution makes apparent sense. To hone means to sharpen, refine, or perfect. That's why plenty of people use hone in.
Still: If you're searching for a solution, channel your inner pigeon and home in on it.
I could care less and I couldn't care less
Saying I could care less implies I care to some degree; otherwise there wouldn't be room for lesser concern.
If you want to say you don't care at all, say I couldn't care less.
Or better yet, just say you don't care.
In regard to and in regards to
I still catch myself messing this one up.
The correct usage is in regard to. Like, "In regard to your proposal (or with regard to your proposal), the next step is to perform due diligence on your product's capabilities."
Or better yet just say, "We're interested, but we want to do some tests before we sign."
Ensure and insure
Ensure means to make sure. "I will ensure that gets done." Insure refers to insurance.
When you promise an order will ship on time, you ensure it will. If you will compensate the buyer if the package is lost or damaged, you insure it.
So don't use insure unless your promise involves compensation rather than efffort.
Discrepancy, disparity, and dichotomy
Let's finish with a triple.
Disparity means a significant difference between measurable things. A disparity between salaries for men and women who perform the same job still exists. A disparity for access to health care still exists in underserved communities.
Discrepancy means a lack of compatibility or similarity between two or more things. There might be a discrepancy between your bank balance and the figure in QuickBooks.
Dichotomy refers to the contrast between two things that are entirely different or opposed. You might notice a dichotomy between two people's leadership styles.
Use disparity to describe a difference (usually an unfair one). Use discrepancy to refer to apparent inaccuracy or conflicting accounts.
But don't use dichotomy. "Difference" works. "Big difference" works. "Completely opposite" does too.
Because once again, simple -- not simplistic -- is almost always the best way to communicate.