The word popped out at me towards the end of a passage in which are listed the characteristics of an ideal husband through the eyes of a drippy 25-year-old woman. She wonders if her failure to find such a paragon is because she is being ‘too proscriptive’.
I knew at once it was the wrong word. Surely she means ‘prescriptive’, I thought.
I turned to my battered copy of the Concise Oxford Dictionary where my belief was confirmed.
Proscriptive is from the verb Proscribe: to ban or render illegal.
Prescriptive is from the verb Prescribe: to offer as a solution or cure.
A physician writes a prescription. Law makers proscribe certain activities, like having too many people from other households as visitors to yours in the present circumstances. Ironically, such restrictions are based on medical advice, so either word could be used without censure*.
I wondered, not for the first time, why I’m bothering to read this book which has been disappointing so far. About the only worthwhile thing about it is the satisfaction of knowing that there are books out there in which the writing is far worse than mine. And this one is described as “The #1 bestseller and gripping Richard & Judy Book Club pick.” It has a rating on Amazon of 4.5 out of 5 stars computed from over 6,700 ratings in the 13 months since it was published by Cornerstone. I wonder how their editors missed such a glaring error.
I can’t help thinking that I ought to persevere, if only to discover what it is that so impressed Richard and Judy and all those reviewers.
*Censure belongs to another pairing with deceptively similar meanings which you misuse at peril of criticism from pedants like me who care about the English language:
Censor is another word for proscribe: to ban, or remove from publication, material deemed seditious or immoral.
Censure means to express disapproval, to blame or reprove. Which, you may have noticed, is what I am doing here.
Perhaps you can think of one or more other pairs of words, with near identical spelling, but different meanings that make them a trap for the unwary author. Feel free to tell me about them in the comments.