Monday, November 8, 2010

Incongruous vs Incongruent

A reader recently wrote:
I'm wondering if you could provide any insight on incongruent vs. incongruous. I've heard many different explanations on how incongruent and incongruous are used differently but have yet to find one I'm satisfied with.
To be honest, I was stumped. A quick check of Webster's Collegiate Dictionary didn't help clarify. So I ordered Garner's Modern American Usage, "the preeminent contemporary guide to effective use of the English language," as it bills itself on the dust jacket. It just came in the mail today.

The entry under incongruous notes, "For the distinction between congruous and congruent, see congruent." Hmm. Flipping to that entry, I read, "these words are largely synonymous--meaning 'in agreement or harmony; appropriate'."

It turns out that incongruous ("not in harmony; unfitting") is "far more common" than congruous. Garner gives the example of "tinkling calls, so incongruous from such gigantic birds."

According to Webster's, incongruent is used in mathematics, such as incongruent triangles.

That said, I believe incongruous and incongruent are synonymous. I've seen them used interchangeably. It comes down to author preference, though incongruous seems to be more commonly used.

I'm not sure if my dear reader will be satisfied with this explanation. But I'm very satisfied to have Garner's Modern American Usage now on my bookshelf.

"Incongruous" T-shirt available at

Tuesday, November 2, 2010


Talk about redundant. In Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, "redundancy" is defined as "the quality or state of being redundant." While "redundant" means "characterized by similarity or repetition."

Redundancies are common in our language. Think of "free gift" or "general consensus." They are so ubiquitous that we don't even stop to think that all gifts, by definition, are free. Or that a consensus is reached by general agreement of the group. True fact! (If it's a fact, then it's true.)

I try to eliminate redundancies in texts I edit. Two recent examples, in the same 500-word article: "protective helmets" and "military soldiers." Surprisingly, the author balked at my deleting "military" before "soldiers." She thought we needed it for clarity. Yet the context was clear we meant military, as opposed to, say, Christian soldiers.

Do you have any favorite redundancies? Put them in the comments and maybe we can get a consensus of opinion.

"Department of Redundancy Department" T-shirt available at

Monday, November 1, 2010

Tick vs Tic

File this under "Everyone Needs an Editor."

In my recent post on Vacation vs Holiday, I referred to my "British language lapses and ticks." As an anonymous commenter pointed out, that should have been "tics." Webster's Collegiate Dictionary makes that clear:
a frequent usually unconscious quirk of behavior or speech <"you know" is a verbal tic>
You know, I knew that. I just forgot. That's why everyone needs an editor.

In the future, I'll remember that "ticks suck." And so does making such a silly error.

"Ticks Suck!" T-shirt available at