Appendix III: Word Wise




obligated – (obsolescent)
obliged – (current)

Obligated still has currency in a legal capacity.



Obscenities belong principally to narrative (story-telling), but even there their overuse can bore or numb the reader. Elsewhere, they should be used
with great caution, and preferably only in quoted speech. Readership and house style are the safest guides. 
The Guardian will occasionally print
fuck and cunt in full.1 
The Times usually insists on asterisks: f***, c***.2


obsolete – (n. obsoleteness, obsoletism) antiquated, out of date, no longer of use or value.
obsolescent – (n. obsolescence) becoming obsolete, fading, declining.


octopus, octopuses, not octopi.
According to Burchfield, the Latin plural would be rendered octopodes.3 

(See English- and Latin-ending plurals.)        


oculist, ophthalmic optician, ophthalmologist, optomerist.

Oculist – (obsolete) an ophthalmologist. Ophthalmic optician – (usually shortened to optician) one who is qualified to test the eyes, make and supply
spectacles and contact lenses, and to detect eye diseases. O
phthalmologist – one who makes a scientific study of the eye and its diseases. 
ptometrist – (US) an optician.


oesophagus – (UK)
esophagus – (US)

Plural oesophagi rather than oesophaguses.

(See English- and Latin-ending plurals.)


O.K., OK, okay.

O.K. is obsolete, OK is current and okay is preferred in direct speech: ‘Okay,’ he said, ‘what’s for lunch?’  But none is OK in formal English, OK?


omelette – (UK)
omelet – (US)



In spite of initially attracting more hostility than most other non-standard Americanisms, ongoing now seems to be part of the standard vocabulary
of press reporters and BBC TV news presenters. It was banned by the Guardian,4 The Times5 and BBC Radio6 and, according to Burchfield, ‘signals 
a person’s linguistic impoverishment’.7 Some of its uses, moreover, sounded particularly inelegant. Besides the cliché, an ongoing situation, there
emerged the bogus noun ongoingness and the risible sentence of President George W. Bush, ‘We’re going to be ongoing’. The sadness is that there
are so many perfectly serviceable options: continuing, continuous, current, developing, existing, growing, progressing, under way.


only, often.

Adverbs such as these can create ambiguity when carelessly placed in sentences. Does the sentence My father only lent me £20 mean My father
was too mean to give me £20
, or My father was too mean to lend me more than £20? Similarly, does the  sentence People who exercise often live
 mean People who often exercise live longer, or People often live longer if they exercise?

(See modifiers.)


on to, onto.

On to is correct in all circumstances. Onto may be preferred to indicate that something is upon something else (The cat jumped off the wall and
onto the shed
), or that someone is getting the better of someone else (The burglar was growing more confident, but the police were onto him), but
it is not necessary; on to will serve equally well. It follows that onto can be used incorrectly (After travelling through Spain, we went onto Portugal),
whereas on to cannot. If in doubt, use the two-word form. Both The Guardian8 and The Times recommend it always.9


on, upon.

There is no firm rule of use, so that either word might be chosen in many circumstances: On (upon) my word of honour; You may depend on (upon)
it; Look on (upon) it as a gift. Upon is usually preferred in contexts where the object is a victim (pounce upon, prey upon, set upon), but there is no
consistency (pick on).


onwards – (UK)
onward – (US)

(See -ward(s) suffixes.)


op. cit. – (opere citato) 'from the work already cited'. Used in referencing systems.

(See also abbreviations.)


optimal, optimum.

As adjectives for ‘most favourable’, either word may be used, with optimum now the more common. In either case, the adverb is optimally.


oral – to do with the mouth; spoken.
verbal – to do with words.

Verbal can mean both ‘written’ and ‘spoken’. Someone who delivers a speech is thus more accurately described as giving an oral rather than a
verbal presentation. But common usage has given us such expressions 
verbal abuse and verbal warning.


ordinance – an order, decree, statute or law.
ordnance – cannon, artillery.
Ordnance Survey map – so called because it was originally drawn up by the army.


organisation – (UK)
organization – (US & UK)

(See -isation, ization.)


orientated – (UK)
oriented – (US)

According to Burchfield, oriented is the older word,10 but usage has become thus.

(See also disorientated, disoriented.)



1 The Guardian Style Guide. Multiple access, 200203.
2 The Times Style Guide. No longer available on line. Multiple access, 200203.
3 R. W. Burchfield (ed.), The New Fowler’s Modern English Usage, Third Revised Edition, OUP, 1998.
4 The Guardian Style Guide.
5 The Times Style Guide.
6BBC Radio Newsroom, Alphabetical List. Accessed 20.05.03.
7 Burchfield, op. cit.
8 The Guardian Style Guide.
9 The Times Style Guide.
10 Burchfield, op. cit.


























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