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accoutrement

If the two dictionaries I’ve consulted are right, and I think they are, the word accoutrement is sometimes misused. That’s not at all surprising because the masses, and I include myself in that, aren’t as literate they can be. And that’s sort of like saying that the world is not as peaceful as it can be, i.e., a horribly gross understatement.

You know how it goes. One person is not clear on all of the possible meanings of a word. He or she hears someone who sounds authoritative, but who is, in fact, an idiot, use it incorrectly. Then the first person innocently repeats the incorrect usage, and someone else picks it up. And so on. And so on. And before you know it we’re all talking like idiots.

Come to think of it, maybe you’d better confirm what I’m about to say rather than accept it at face value. Idiots rarely know they are idiots.

The usage of accoutrement that I can’t find supported in either dictionary I looked at is as a synonym for condiment or, to use more down-home language, fixin. For example, you might hear someone say, “I’ll have a hamburger with all the accoutrements” rather than “a hamburger with the works.”

If you do hear people using accoutrement in that way, look at them askance so they might get the point that they are using the word accoutrements incorrectly.

Accoutrements are additional equipment or clothing worn or carried by someone for a particular purpose.

The New Penguin English Dictionary (1986) tells me that in North America the word is also spelled accouterment. I normally think it’s a fine dictionary, but I do have one complaint about it. When it mentions a North American spelling, it is often wrong. It’s usually an American spelling rather than the spelling across North America.

Canadian spellings (Canada was part of North America the last time I checked) are a cross between American and British spellings. Where those two spellings diverge, we usually use the British version. There is one class of exceptions. There are a number of words in which Americans use a z where the British use an s. Organization and specialization, are just two of a number of examples. We use the American spellings for those words, but we still call the last letter of the alphabet zed, not zee.

Getting back to the topic at hand after that brief tangent about Canadian, American and British spellings, I’m kind of glad I got to the word accoutrement in this project because until I did I would have sworn that accoutrement was the only valid spelling. I write marketing literature for business-to-business software companies. I count Americans companies among my clients.

I thought I knew all of the American spellings, but I was wrong. Its a good thing the word accoutrement, or rather accouterment, has never come up in the marketing material I’ve written because I would have gotten that one wrong when writing for U.S. clients.

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