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actionable / doable

“Actionable” is a technical term referring to something that provides grounds for a legal action or lawsuit. People in the business world have begun using it as a fancy synonym for “doable” or “feasible.” This is both pretentious and confusing.

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acronyms and apostrophes

One unusual use of the apostrophe is in plural acronyms, like “ICBM’s” “NGO’s” and “CD’s”. Since this pattern violates the rule that apostrophes are not used before an S indicating a plural, many people object to it. It is also perfectly legitimate to write “CDs,” etc. See also “50’s.” But the use of apostrophes with initialisms like “learn your ABC’s and “mind your P’s and Q’s” is now so universal as to be acceptable in almost any context.

Note that “acronym” was used originally only to label pronounceable abbreviations like “NATO,” but is now generally applied to all sorts of initialisms. Be aware that some people consider this extended definition of “acronym” to be an error.

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accurate / precise

In ordinary usage, “accurate” and “precise” are often used as rough synonyms, but scientists like to distinguish between them. Accurate measurements reflect true values; but precise measurements are close to each other, even if all of them are wrong in the same way. The same distinction applies in scientific contexts to the related words “accuracy” and “precision.”

This distinction is not likely to come up outside of contexts where it is understood, but science writers might want to be aware that the general public will not understand this distinction unless it’s explained.

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accidently

You can remember this one by remembering how to spell “accidental.” There are quite a few words with -ally suffixes (like “incidentally”) which are not to be confused with words that have “-ly” suffixes (like “independently”). “Incidental” is a word, but “independental” is not.

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accept / except

If you offer me Godiva chocolates I will gladly accept them—except for the candied violet ones. Just remember that the “X” in “except”  excludes things—they tend to stand out, be different. In contrast, just look at those two cozy “C’s” snuggling up together. Very accepting. And be careful; when typing “except” it often comes out “expect.”

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vitae

Unless you are going to claim credit for accomplishments in previous incarnations, you should refer to your “vita,” not your “vitae.” All kidding aside, the “ae” in “vitae” supposedly indicates the genitive rather than the plural (that is, vitae in this case works like a possessive form to modify “curriculum”); but the derivation of vita from curriculum vitae is purely speculative (see the Oxford English Dictionary), and vitae on its own makes no sense grammatically.

“Résumé,” by the way, is a French word with both “Es” accented, and literally means “summary.” In English one often sees it without the accents, or with only the second accent, neither of which is a serious error. But if you’re trying to show how multilingual you are, remember the first accent.

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