Columns » Words

Words

by and

comment

 “Long asked Saxon if he shot by accident, the grand jury report shows. Saxon said he shot purposefully, a statement he reiterated in interviews with prosecutors and police investigators.”


I think the police officer actually said, or intended to say, that he shot purposely. There’s a slight difference between purposely and purposefully, though many seem to be using the words interchangeably these days.


As the Cambridge Guide to English Usage says, both adverbs claim to explain the purposes underlying human action, but they take somewhat different perspectives.


“Purposely indicates that what happened was not just a matter of chance, but done intentionally (or on purpose). It often relates to small, everyday events: He purposely kept the memo out of N’s hands. Its opposite is accidentally.


“Purposefully usually implies movement toward a preconceived goal: Moran drove purposefully. Its opposite is aimlessly.”


The policeman in this case is saying that his gun did not go off accidentally, that he fired it. He’s not saying that he arrived on the scene with a preconceived goal of shooting somebody.

 We mentioned last week that transparent, years ago, generally carried a negative connotation (“easily seen through or detected,” as in A transparent liar) but today it is more often used favorably (“candid; open; free from guile,” as in The selection process must be transparent in order to retain public confidence). Even negotiators from Iran have caught on to the usage:


“If you take harsh measures, we will hide this program. If you use the language of force, you should not expect us to act transparently.”


As this sense of transparent has become more commonly used, so has its opposite. Was it Abbot and Costello who said something about action and reaction? Anyway:


“Yet, despite the fact that hundreds of thousands of words have been written on Cheney’s role in the Bush administration, most of what’s been written fails to explain how the vice president wields his extraordinary authority. Notoriously opaque, the Office of the Vice President (OVP) is very difficult for journalists to penetrate.”

Add a comment

Clicky