CONFUSIBLE

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CONFUSIBLE, also confusable. A semi-technical term for one of two or more WORDS that are commonly or easily confused with one another: luxuriant with luxurious; they're with there and their. The British lexicographer Adrian Room (Dictionary of Confusing Words and Meanings, 1985) separates confusibles or ‘lookalikes’ such as dominating and domineering from distinguishables or ‘meanalikes’ such as faun and satyr. At least seven factors contribute to confusion: (1) Homophony, in which words have the same sound but different spellings and meanings: slay, sleigh. (2) Homography, in which words have the same spelling, but different sounds and meanings: wind moving air, wind to turn or twist. (3) Shared elements: mitigate and militate share the same number of syllables, the same stress pattern, and the same opening and closing syllables. (4) Transposable or exchangeable elements: cavalry and Calvary, form and from, accept and except. Factors 3 and 4 become more potent still when words have similar meanings and uses: affect and effect. (5) Words mistaken for phrases or vice versa: already and all ready. (6) Semantic proximity: baroque and rococo, nadir and zenith. Here, confusion may be encouraged by different but related applications of the same terms by different people: acronym and initialism, subconscious and unconscious. Some words are very different in meaning but sometimes displace one another because of close association: acid and alkali, defendant and plaintiff. (7) Uncertainty arising from different uses in different varieties of English: biscuit and cookie in BrE and AmE. See CATACHRESIS, DOUBLET, HOMONYM, MALAPROPISM, MISTAKE, SLIP OF THE TONGUE, SPOONERISM.