This post goes out to anyone who ever felt the stirrings of a panic attack while reading Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style. So many rules, so many words, so many snidely delivered suggestions! Sometimes I’ll take in a writing tip (not necessarily from Strunk and/or White), and the illogical complexity of it will turn me squishy, grammatically paralyzed. In the spirit of kvetching, I thought I’d share one of those paralyzing bits of advice with you.
Today’s writing tip that ruined me is the difference between alternate and alternative.
Alternate and alternative are often used as adjectives to mean the same thing: “available as another possibility.” To properly fit this definition, ‘alternate’ is an imperfect alternative. Alternate more properly means ‘every other’ (alternate Saturdays, or alternating Saturdays).
All of that makes pretty good sense, until I start thinking about a term like ‘alternate reality,’ which sounds so much better an ‘alternative reality.’ Or an ‘alternate juror,’ versus an ‘alternative juror.’
Urrgh! Luckily the erroneous synonymity of alternative and alternate is being slowly accepted as a part of our standard English lexicon. Ain’t that cool?