Words that peeve me

Some words annoy me. Not so much the words but how they're used or how they may be pronounced by others.

I will add to this page from time to time

To be fair, I'm not good with English. It's not my first language but it is my only language. For the first four years of life I was exposed mainly to Cantonese and a little English. I was initially raised by my grandparents and they wanted me to be Chinese. At the age of four I moved to a house with my parents. There were kids living in my street and I couldn't speak with them. I didn't know the words. It didn't take long to learn English.

The problems for me and language began when I started primary school. It was a great school and I enjoyed my time mostly. The problem was it was the 1970s and a lot of the older kids had parents who were in the Audtralian Defence Force. They had been serving and defending Australia in Vietnam. That's when I learnt about racism. I rejected any Chinese I had learnt, spoke only Strine and for good measure demanded meat and three 'veg' rather than Chinese food.

But enough of that, I'll write more about that on other pages on other blogs. Please note I have nothing against those kids from school or their parents. I have the utmost respect for men and women who serve in the ADF and defend Australia.

Speciate and identify

In the clinical microbiology laboratory I hear people say they're going to speciate a bacterium when they mean they're going to characterise it to determine the bacterium's identity. Speciation is the formation of a new and distinct species in the course of evolution.

Meningococcal and pneumococcal

These words are adjectives, yet so many people use them as nouns. It's bad enough the media uses these words incompetently, it's worse that qualified medical people including medical practitioners, medical scientists and registered nurses use these words as nouns. The words describe and qualify certain diseases. Appropriate uses inlcude but are not limited to, meningococcal meningitis, meningococcal bacteræmia, meningococcal septicæmia, pneumococcal meningitis, pneumococcal pneumomia, pneumococcal bacteræmia and pneumococcal septicæmia. I think you get the picture.

Zoölogy and oöcyte

There is no zoo in zoölogy. It's zoh-AHL-uh-jee. There's no oo in oöcyte. It's OH-oh-site. Think of cooperate and coordinate.


An autoclave is an instrument for sterilisation. A pressure cooker can act as an autoclave. The word autoclave shouldn't be used as an verb. When people say they want to autoclave something, they mean they want to sterilise it by using steam under pressue. Steam is not visible. It's an invisible gas created by heating water to 100 °C at standard temperature and pressue. When water boils we can see water vapour, we cannot see steam.

Sterilise, sterile, sterilisation

To sterilise something means to kill all forms of life including highly resistant bacterial spores. The notion of a sterile area at an airport is nonsense. A parent can only sterilise an infant's milk bottles if an autoclave is used or the bottles are subjected to ionising radiation. Washing the bottles and using a chlorine compound is disinfection.

A book by Charles Elster ©1988

A book by Charles Elster ©1988