Lately I’ve repeatedly come across two bits of English usage that look really wrong to me. Checking them up, it turns out that in one case I was right, in the other wrong.
Principle/principal. Many native English speakers of extremely high academic accomplishment don’t seem to know that “principle” is a noun and “principal” an adjective. They will happily write “my principle objection is blah blah bla”. Wroooong.
Jealousy/envy. In Swedish, the words svartsjuka and avund have distinct meanings. Svartsjuka (literally “black illness”) is what you feel when you fear that your partner may be cheating on you. Avund is what you feel when a colleague gets the big grant you both applied for. Now, I used to believe that “jealousy” mapped exactly onto svartsjuka and “envy” onto its cognate avund. I thought people were making an entertaining error when they said they were jealous of the neighbour’s new car. Not so. According to the dictionaries I’ve consulted, “jealousy” in fact encompasses both svartsjuka and avund, while “envy” does map directly onto avund. Envy is thus a subset of jealousy. I find that I’m expected to experience jealousy both if the mailman bangs my wife and if he gets the big grant I applied for.
Don’t even get me started on how bad native English speakers are at faking King James Bible grammar.