Sometimes, people say what they mean – whether they mean to or not.
Take Tim Beckman, head football coach at the University of Illinois, who was interviewed on TV this past week. A colleague of Mose's pointed out the broadcast.
"Let's talk about the Fighting Illini,” he said. “I guess the word I like to use is anxious. I'm very anxious to see the progress that this football team has made since the first of December."
After his team started the 2012 season 2-1, it dropped nine straight games. The Big Ten record was 0-8.
So, naturally, the coach might be anxious – meaning nervous – about the team this year.
Mose suspects the coach wanted to say “eager,” which conveys a sense of excitement. But, in fact, he probably is anxious.
Children on Christmas morning would be eager – unless they feared a lump of coal would be in the stocking. That might cause anxiety.
Using the precise word is important to prevent the reader – or listener – from inferring something that isn't intended.
The eager vs. anxious confusion is common.
So is imply vs. infer, which is determined by the source. The writer (or speaker) implies; the reader (or listener) infers.
People frequently use refute (to prove something wrong or false) when they mean dispute (to challenge an assertion or fact).
If you thought it would rain but did not arm yourself with an umbrella, you expected the precipitation but failed to anticipate it.
You might have convinced her that she should vote, but that doesn't mean you've persuaded her to do it.
The phone might ring continually, but the ringing isn't continuous unless it never stops.
That event from the past is probably historical, but it's historic only if it was momentous.
Not everyone (relatively few) will recognize the difference in those words.
But for people in your audience who know better, your using the precise word can avoid their misunderstanding.
That should make you a little anxious.