Commonly misunderstood words that trip up writers

They sound similar and even share similar meanings—and that’s what makes these words so dangerous.

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Well, this column is about words with definitions that are continually misunderstood, misinterpreted, and misconstrued. They are the middle schoolers of our lexicon.

Arbitration, mediation

Arbitration means a third party listens to evidence from all parties and hands down a decision. Example: “The contract called for arbitration by a federal judge.”

Mediation means a third party listens to the evidence from all parties and brings them to an agreement. Example: “The plaintiff agreed to try mediation one last time.”

Carat, caret, karat

Carat is a unit of weight for precious stones, equal to 200 milligrams. Example: “Can you measure rhinestones in carats?”

A caret is a V-shape proofreader’s symbol indicating something is to be inserted. Example: “Carets should be placed within the text, not in the margin.”

Karat is the proportion of gold used with an alloy. Example: “Pure gold is 24 karat.”

Capital, Capitol

Capital is the city where the seat of government is located; also money, equipment, or property. Examples: “Austin is the capital of Texas,” or, “To start our own communications firm, we need to raise capital.”

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