Pet peeve: insure vs. ensure

I have been very restrained, and have managed to endure the last few months with no additions to my pet peeve collection. You may be thinking, “how did he ever make it through the last few months of election coverage and financial meltdowns without any pet peeve updates?” and that is a fine question. The short version is that I have dozens of them, but I could not figure out how to give voice to them while remaining civil enough to post, so they had to find other, saltier venues.

So I am turning to a simpler source of frustration – the incredibly widespread misuse of the word insure when people mean ensure. Yes, I know there is an assure issue, too, but the insure-when-you-mean-ensure is the one that bugs me.

Some of my language peeves are idiosyncratic, I know this. Things like my choice to use the word data as a plural form, and to use datum as the singular, even though the world has decided to treat data as a singular and condemn datum to oblivion. My archaic usage makes sense, but I am the first to realize it is out of step with common usage, so I bite my tongue and leave well enough alone.

Not so with the ensure/insure confusion. Briefly, here are definitions of the words at issue:

insure,, -sured, -sur·ing, -sures.

    1. To provide or arrange insurance for: a company that insures homeowners and businesses.
    2. To acquire or have insurance for: insured herself against losses; insured his car for theft.
  1. To make sure, certain, or secure.

ensure, tr.v., -sured, -sur·ing, -sures.

To make sure or certain; insure: Our precautions ensured our safety

Both of the above definitions point to a usage note under the entry for assure, which reads:

Assure, ensure, and insure all mean “to make secure or certain.” Only assure is used with reference to a person in the sense of “to set the mind at rest”: assured the leader of his loyalty. Although ensure and insure are generally interchangeable, only insure is now widely used in American English in the commercial sense of “to guarantee persons or property against risk.”

Hateful, moronic poppycock! Unconscionable tripe! Generally interchangeable!? Inconceivable.

Let’s see what others say on this pivotal issue…

Back in February, Minnesota Public Radio noted: When talking about insure and ensure, the word assure inevitably enters the mix. Fowler’s Modern English Usage says that assure, ensure and insure ‘have intersecting paths in contexts involving aspects of certainty, assuredness and security.’

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston addressed this head on in August here. I agree with her distinctions exactly, and admire her steely discipline not to fall for the “generally interchangeable” hoo-hah.

August must have been a big month for this, as the Grammar Girl tackled it as well. Amazingly, they come to the same conclusions as Lynn above, and also avoid any linguistic relativism. Bravo.

If you poke about in Google on this topic, the top hit comes from, and their entry is pretty good. They are on the slippery interchangeable slope though, but they do note that the Associated Press disagrees with their cavalier, trendy usage. Good for the AP.

I could go on and beat this horse further, but I will restrain myself and leave it at that. I assure you this is not my last grammar gripe – the rampant misuse of English today ensures it.


Pet peeve: DVD start up sequence

I think it is fair to say that what most people want to have happen when they slide most DVDs into most DVD players is to have the movie on that disc begin to play. There may be a few times when a person desires the special features, and perhaps if the disc holds multiple episodes of a TV show, for example, the menu may be the desired destination. Still, I think that for most people and most discs, autoplay is the desired behavior.

Of course, autoplay is never a choice. The movie studio is so excited to have captive eyeballs that they cannot help themselves. They play a series of previews for you, perhaps an ad for the soundtrack, and maybe even a music video if there’s a tie in to the movie and the movie studio has a deal with the record label. Before you know it, more than five minutes have passed between the moment you slid the disc drawer closed and the opportunity to push play comes up. In the meantime you’ve pushed play 127 times, and each time the DVD has helpfully scolded you with some version of “action not permitted.”

When you are playing the disc by yourself, or for other adults, this interval is dull, but easily handled. A person can be dispatched to pop popcorn and pour drinks, for example. Try this five minute waiting game with a roomful of kids, and it’s a different matter. Small children will quote, with no sense of irony, the creature from the Shrek intro who intones “Ya, ya, stot da moo-vie.” Depending on how many times you have sat through a given film’s intro sequence and how much sleep you have under your belt, you may find yourself replying “I’d have started the #@$%movie if the $%^& disc would #$%-ing let me!”

The most painful time for this issue to arise is in a car with a DVD player. The children excitedly clamor for a movie which you’ve been saving for the big trip, you remove it from its case and slide it in to the player, and then the ordeal begins – the sole screen in the car faces the eager children, so you have no way to tell when you can push play. Some of the kids will want to watch all 63 previews while others will tell you to start, and every time you do push play, nothing happens. The weaker kids will start to cry and faint as they endure ads for direct-to-DVD movies like “Buzz Lightyear Gets His Groove Back II Remixed”. Finally, once everyone is so annoyed that no one remains interested in watching the movie, the menu appears and play is now a choice. Thanks, DVD people.

Can Hollywood possibly wonder if user-hostile decisions like the above contribute to DVD piracy and DVD ripping? A DivX-encoded movie on a DVD-R slides right into a DVD and starts playing in a jiffy. Until Hollywood can figure out the appeal of that simple statement, they will continue to antagonize their customers and ultimately imperil their own business.


Back in November, I wrote a little post about how much it irks me when someone who doesn’t have the right of way at a stop sign waves you ahead. I ran into an egregious example of that on my way home today, and was reminded again how much that false generosity bugs me. It reminds me of my old math teacher’s dark desire to drive around a Dodge Dart with bumpers and simply drive into people who bug you on the road. Slowly. Obviously, not an actual plan, but it does sound satisying at times.

Bonus peeve of the day: people who use insure when they mean ensure. I assure you, they are different words – it shouldn’t be that hard to distinguish between them, and yet that mistake is made all the time.

Pet peeve of the day

When someone speaks of traveling north, and says “we’re going to go down there,” or alternatively if they refer to a southern destination as “up.” For example, nearly all Americans go up to Canada and down to Mexico.

That is all.

Pet peeve: stop sign stupidity

stop_consuming_stop_sign.jpgWhen two cars arrive at an intersection at the same moment, even though the right-of-way may be clear under the law, it is a kindness for the two drivers to make sufficient eye contact to make sure there is mutual agreement before one person proceeds.

However, when two cars arrive at an intersection at different times, it drives me crazy when the second driver waves to the first in that falsely-generous way that says, “you go first.” Of course the person who was first is going to go first.

It drives me crazy when people go through the motions of ‘giving’ someone else right-of-way when it’s not theirs to give.

As an aside, the defensive driving instructor has always said in his tri-annual lecture that even if you have the other driver on tape waving you ahead, if you proceed against right-of-way and they hit you, the accident is considered your fault. So driver beware when you see another driver wave you ahead.