The R’s That Aren’t

Today’s entry has to do with pronunciation and a couple of nasty “r’s” that have indecorously intruded into some otherwise wonderful words.

The victimized words are “persevere” and “sherbet.” The first has two r’s—not three. The second has one r, not two.

So what the first word isn’t is per-ser-veer. It’s actually per-suh-veer. (with no r in the middle of the word). In other words, there’s no serve in persevere.

That wonderful summertime confection is not “sure, Bert.” It’s pronounced shur-bit. (I know, the –bet part of the word should technically be pronounced bet, not bit. But it’s enough of a victory to get rid of Bert!)

I don’t know how those sneaky little “r’s” have snuck into those words. But let’s make an effort to keep them out!

Regimen vs. Regiment

Today’s entry is often more of a spelling issue than a grammar issue. But a mistake in this regard can be pretty amusing.

A regimen is a systematic plan or regular course of action to achieve a specific goal. Usually we’re talking about eating healthy food, exercising with a certain regularity, or following a plan for taking certain medicines when we use the word. For example,

I follow a daily regimen of exercise and physical therapy to maintain my strength as an athlete.

My condition means I have to follow a particular regimen of this over-priced drug.

A regiment, on the other hand, is a military unit usually made of several large groups of soldiers.

Example: Before the battle, the regiment staked out a strong position behind the hill.

So if you follow a daily regiment, you might get shot in the process.

Liable and Likely

The words liable and likely are now being used synonymously, and this post isn’t going to slow down that trend one iota.

Just file this under “Things I never knew” if you tend to use them that way.

The first meaning of the word liable is connected with the law. It means legally obligated or responsible for something, usually making reference to the one who must pay or is going to get in trouble because of something. If your tree hits the neighbor’s roof, you are probably liable for damages. (When you’re thinking being legally responsible, we usually say, liable for.) If it helps you to remember, it’s from a French word meaning, “to bind,” as in legally binding.

That’s the first meaning. Because it is, we tend to use liable when we mean likely with the connotation that something negative could occur: “He’s liable to hurt himself if he keeps that up.”

When we use likely to describe a possibility, it doesn’t carry a positive or negative connotation. It just refers to a strong possibility.

It would be nice to go back to a time when liable just referred to legal situations and likely referred to possibility. But that’s neither liable nor likely to happen!