The fifth film in the Die Hard series was released yesterday. The new flick, A Good Day to Die Hard, not only prompts us to marvel at how many film titles they can come up with from the words âdieâ and âhard,â but also causes us to wonder how many more action scenes they can squeeze out of an aging Bruce Willis. (My bet: many more. Heâs looking really good for his age.)
But jokes aside, when I walk into the theater to see the latest installment, one thing is guaranteed: the film will be loaded with unexpected moments. In all of the Die Hard movies, things often end up being radically different than they initially appear.
Take the first Die Hard. John McClane (played by Bruce Willis) manages to contact the LAPD after Hans Gruber seizes the tower. While violence consumes the buildingâs interior, everything seems normal to the dispatched LAPD officer. The officer is unwittingly met by one of Gruberâs armed men, who masquerades as a security guard.
And later in the movie, John McClane surrenders his machine gun, causing Hans Gruber to believe McClane is defenseless when in reality McClane has a pistol taped to his back. (And letâs not forget in the third movie when one of the bombs ends up being a decoy.)
The plot twists and the perfidious villains ensure things are never as they seem.
In life outside of the Die Hard movies, a chasm can exist between what we think to be true and what is actually true. This happens with certain words in the English language. Consider the word dilemma. A lot of people think the word âdilemmaâ is simply another word for a problem. Isnât it? And the words âcontinualâ and âcontinuousâ are synonyms, correct? And the words âhistoricâ and âhistoricalâ mean the same thing, no?
If you believe any of those statements to be true, youâve been deceived.
The good news is these tricky words are more like pesky knaves rather than the machine-gun-wielding nemeses in the Die Hard series. And fortunately being duped when it comes to grammar wonât cost you your life like it will in the movies. But it may cost you your credibility.
While Bruce Willis vies against bombs, bullets, and nefarious henchman, writers endeavor to keep Grammar Nazis at bay and to gain the confidence of readers (feats not as difficult as those faced by Bruce Willis but still challenging in their own rights). And even Bruce Willis needs help defeating his enemies; in the third Die Hard, help came in the form of the peerless Samuel L. Jackson. Writers need help too, especially when facing enemies like tricky, confusing words. Hereâs some help.
Contrary to popular opinion, the word âdilemmaâ does not mean any old problem. It refers to a very specific type of problem. When youâre faced with two options, both of which are equally unpleasant or undesirable, youâre faced with a dilemma.
Letâs say I planned on buying a Die Hard DVD collection as a birthday gift for my friend. I go to Best Buy, and they donât have it. I look online, and every copy is sold out. Iâm now faced with a problem: I canât find the DVD collection. This is a problem, but itâs not a dilemma because Iâm not faced with two equally unfavorable options.
Now letâs say I promised my friend I would go see A Good Day to Die Hard with her on Friday night. But I also promised my mom I would go shopping with her on Friday night (clearly Iâm a forgetful person in need of a calendar). I now have a dilemma: go to the movies with my friend and disappoint my mom or go shopping with my mom and disappoint my friend. I have to choose between two options, neither of
which is desirable.
Continuous vs. Continual
The words âcontinuousâ and âcontinualâ trick writers because while they sound remarkably similar, they differ in meaning. And even though not every person acknowledges the difference in meaning, some do, and I think itâs worth knowing the difference. âContinuousâ is used to describe things that happen without interruption and never stop. If something occurs in an unbroken stream, it occurs continuously. A clock ticks continuously because it never pauses. The blood in my veins flows continuously because it never stops flowing.
âContinualâ refers to something that happens regularly but with breaks in between. If something occurs frequently but not ceaselessly, it occurs continually. I get migraines continually because my migraines occur regularly, but there are periods in between the migraines when Iâm normal and healthy. My life isnât composed of one constant, never-ending migraine headache (fortunately).
Consider these sentences:
The bomb that Simon plants on the Brooklyn-bound train ticks continuously.
Until it detonates, this particular bomb in the third Die Hard never stops ticking. It never stops counting down the minutes and seconds, so I use the word âcontinuouslyâ here.
Shooting sequences occur continually throughout âA Good Day to Die Hard.â
I use the word âcontinualâ to describe the shooting sequences, because while the movie is filled with regular, frequent shooting sequences, the entire movie isnât one unbroken stream of gunfire.
The continual chase sequences made the movie exhilarating.
While the movie is filled with regular, frequent chase sequences, the entire movie isnât one long, uninterrupted chase sequence.
Historic vs. Historical
Like the words âcontinuousâ and âcontinual,â the words âhistoricâ and âhistoricalâ deceive writers because they sound so similar writers use them interchangeably. But theyâre not synonymous.
If I describe an event as historic, the event was an important or momentous part of history. If I describe an event as historical, the event was part of history, but it wasnât necessarily important.
I would describe the first time I saw Die Hard with a Vengeance as a historical event. It took place years ago, so it happened in the past and can therefore be termed historical. But itâs not a momentous or significant event in history, so I wouldnât call it historic.
I would use historic in a sentence like this:
Filming of âA Good Day to Die Hardâ began in Hungary in 2012, about six years after the historic Hungarian protests.
The Hungarian protests were an important, significant event in history, so I use the adjective âhistoricâ to describe them.
I said above that the word âdilemmaâ canât be used to describe any old problem. The adjective âhistoricâ canât be used to describe any past event. These two words are a little persnickety and particular.
Any past event is historical, because if an event happened in the past, itâs automatically part of history. But only certain past events are historic because only certain past events are significant and memorable.
Loathe vs. Loath
The humble, little âeâ that differentiates these two words makes a big difference in meaning.
âLoatheâ is a verb. If I loathe something, I strongly dislike that thing. Merriam-Webster says the verb âloatheâ suggests utter disgust and intolerance. âLoathâ is an adjective. If Iâm loath to do something, Iâm reluctant to do that thing.
John McClane loathes Hans Gruber.
John McClane strongly dislikes Hans Gruber.
I was loath to see âA Good Day to Die Hardâ until I realized John McClaneâs son is played by an Australian actor who has great abs.
I was unwilling to see the newest Die Hard movie, but I changed my mind because I can be swayed by attractive actors.
Placing a Bet
I have yet to see A Good Day to Die Hard, but I already know itâs going to involve villains trying to deceive Bruce Willis and Bruce Willis trying to deceive villains. And possibly because the rampant incorrect usage of these words seeped into our brains, the above words deceive many writers. But when it comes to Die Hard, past films tell me Bruce Willis will triumph against deception in the end (even if itâs only until the next movie comes out). And letâs hope correct usage and grammar also triumph, though in a more peaceful, family-friendly fashion.
Oh, and my bet for the title of the next Die Hard film: Die Hard or Go Home.
Tagline: You Can Never Die Too Hard.