A virus is spreading. And it has nothing to do with swine or birds or H1N1. Instead, the pandemic is the confusion between the words loose and lose.
I bring this issue up only because it has crept into a surprising number of articles that I’ve either edited or wanted to edit. Let’s first acknowledge that the two words do look similar and can even have related meanings (and have a complicated etymology that makes them look like jagged lines that touch at some points).
- Lose—to fail, to go to destruction, to misplace, to fail to maintain
- Loose—not securely fastened, to have free movement, to free something or someone from confinement, to be in no one’s possession
There are other uses, but those are the main ones.
- A person cannot be a looser. This is very important it seems.
- Of two items, one can be looser than the other (a looser doorknob, e.g.)
- If a team fails to win, they do not loose; they lose.
- If someone is set free from chains, the fetters are loosed. Once they’re off, then those chains are the chains the person lost.
If you’re ever in doubt, try changing the sentence to past tense. That should help you decide which one to use.
So, let’s lose the loose use of lose and loose and loose the lost art of keeping the loose o lost.