I can almost understand the misuse of diffuse in the following example, "In an argument, Macy does his best to diffuse the situation with humor." Diffuse means "to spread around," but it sounds mighty close to the better word choice, defuse, which means "to remove the fuse from, or to reduce the danger or tension."
Next is cavalry/Calvary. Cavalry is a word for soldiers who fight on horseback. Of course, tanks and helicopters took the place of horses, but the Army kept the name of division, the First Cavalry. We also hear of "mounted cavalry," which redundant, but likely a necessary clarification these days. Calvary is actually a proper noun as it is the name of a hill outside Jerusalem where Jesus was crucified.
Etcetera, or more properly, et cetera, is a Latin phrase meaning "and the rest of such things." Et cetera is abbreviated as "etc.," but I have often seen the abbreviation misspelled as "ect." This must be where people get the idea that the spoken word is actually "exetera," which it is not. Et cetera, or etc. is correct, exetera and ect. are incorrect. Period.
Espresso/expresso and especially/expecially have basically the same problem—substituting an x for an s. This is an easy fix if you see the written word. Just pronounce what you see. And when the spell check underlines a word in red, take it seriously.
Picture/feature and specific/Pacific, really get to me. Here are a couple of examples of how they are misused: "I can just feature how that new car will look sitting in my driveway," and "I am looking for one pacific feature in a new car." The appropriate words are "picture" and "specific." Even though these word pairs sound somewhat alike, they do not mean the same things!
Wreak/wreck, wrack/rack, and pour/pore are all pretty much homophones—words that sound alike, but have different spellings and meanings. This means that you cannot hear the difference, but you can read the difference. Wreak means "to cause," while wreck means "destruction." So to use them properly, you would say, "I wreaked havoc on my finances when I wrecked my car." You do not "wreck havoc." Wrack and rack are really the same word, just with spelling variations. When it is used as a verb, as in "wrack my brain," it means "stretch to the limit" as in the medieval instrument of torture. Traditionally "wrack" has been used in this phrase, but I see now that "rack" is just as accepted. So this one is a matter of opinion, and my opinion is obvious! Pour means "to flow rapidly in a steady stream," while pore means (among other things), "to be absorbed in the reading or study of." So you can say "Rain poured outside while I pored over the rainfall records from past years." That is a scenario I would like to see come true!
I have saved the worst for last, loose/lose. These are both variations of the same word, but the problem is that, in writing, people seem to have decided to not trouble themselves with selecting the correct variation and just use "loose" universally, as in "I need to loose some weight." ARRRGGGHHH!!! Here is correct usage, "I need to lose some weight so my clothes will be loose."
I am sure I will be back with more examples in the future. Since misery loves company, feel free to send me your language irritations at:
It has been quite awhile since I have belly-ached about words. In the meantime, I have been reading, listening to the radio, and watching television, which means I have gathered a bellyful of maddening misuses, mispronunciations, and misspellings. Here is today’s list: defuse/diffuse, cavalry/Calvary, etcetera/ectcetera, espresso/expresso, especially/expecially, picture/feature, specific/pacific, wreak/wreck, wrack/rack, pore/pour, loose/lose.