Friday, November 11, 2011

Ahh: words that sound and look very similar... but aren't

I came across a comment at a blog entry on Soc Images about government censorship. The author of the comment (in addition to other grammatical faults) apparently didn't know the difference between censure and censor:
I don't think "state" is the  correct judge for ads, especially since it could allow them to censure political contents for example. But having an independant organ of regulation against such ads, i think it's a great move ! Let's teens stay teens and live without having to be sexy all the time. 
However, the verb to censure is very different than the verb to censor (indeed, the noun form of to censure is censure, while the equivalent noun form of to censor is censorship, whereas censor as a noun means a person who is enabled to enact censorship).

In response to this comment, I wrote*:
Government already has the right to censure political statements, especially if they are taking the action of censure against others in public service. This doesn't necessarily mean that the government has the right to censor political statements (even if the statements are made by those in public service).

(Censure and censor: they don't mean the same thing.)
Okay, it's true that the two words both (according to refer back to the same Latin root word, cēnsēre, and it's obvious that the two words have associated meanings, but the end result of censure is not always censorship. In other words, condemnation of a speaker does not always end in deletion of commentary; it could, but one does not automatically lead to the other.

There are many other examples of this in English (input and impute; complement and compliment; succeed and secede; resource and recourse; precede and proceed; cavalry and Calvary; etc.), and people get them confused as well. However, even with the apparently opposite definitions of the word sanction, one should at least know the definition of the words that make up the crux of your argumentation.

On another note: censure and a censor are both different than a censer. And (analogously), a brassiere and a brasserie are both different from a brazier.

* For some reason, the computer that I'm on does not allow me to post a comment on the blog entry. Maybe from a different computer, though...

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