Word Confusion: Prescribe versus Proscribe

Posted December 8, 2016 by Kathy Davie in Author Resources, Editing, Self-Editing, Word Confusions, Writing

It’s not fair. If you look at pre- and pro- as prefixes, you would expect them to come before and be in favor while -scribe is to write. Okay, so writing makes sense and…

prescribe actually does work, in that it writes rules, laws, or medical prescriptions in advance. I’d’ve interpreted proscribe as be in favor of writing, except that it means to prohibit, ban, or condemn. Not very positive.

Word Confusions…

…started as my way of dealing with a professional frustration with properly spelled words that were out of context in manuscripts I was editing as well as books I was reviewing. It evolved into a sharing of information with y’all. I’m hoping you’ll share with us words that have been a bête noir for you from either end.

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Prescribe Proscribe
Credit to: Apple Dictionary.com
A knocked over bottle

“Pills” courtesy of Marko Javorac under the Creative Commons 2.0 license, via Flickr.

A doctor prescribes medications.

Road sign 315 - No tractors or agricultural vehicles

Image courtesy of Finnish Transport Agency and is in the public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Tractors and agricultural vehicles are proscribed.

Part of Grammar:
Verb, intransitive & transitive

Third person present verb: prescribes
Past tense or past participle: prescribed
Gerund or present participle: prescribing

Verb, transitive

Third person present verb: proscribes
Past tense or past participle: proscribed
Gerund or present participle: proscribing

Usually order up a medical prescription

Verb, intransitive:
To lay down rules

  • Direct
  • Dictate

[Medical] To designate remedies, treatment, etc., to be used
[Law] To claim a right or title by virtue of long use and enjoyment

  • Make a prescriptive claim, usually followed by for or to)

Verb, transitive:
[Of a medical practitioner] Advise and authorize the use of a medicine or treatment for someone, especially in writing

  • Recommend a substance or action as something beneficial
  • Prescribed as a universal remedy
  • State authoritatively or as a rule that an action or procedure should be carried out

Forbid, especially by law

  • Denounce or condemn
  • [Historical] Outlaw someone
Verb, intransitive:
I’m prescribing a codeine-based cough syrup.

The prescribing proposal builds on the success of the 2011 diabetes nurse prescribing project, extended last year, which enables specialist diabetes nurses to independently prescribe (Nursing Council).

A way to acquire an easement on or in real property belonging to another by occupying it continuously for a prescribed period of time.

Verb, transitive:
Dr. Greene prescribed magnesium sulfate.

The doctor prescribed her a drug called amantadine.

Marriage is often prescribed as a universal remedy.

Rules prescribing five acts for a play are purely arbitrary.

But we were doing things in the prescribed manner!

Strikes remained proscribed in the armed forces.

The Catholic Church has proscribed certain practices, such as polygyny.

For your actions, you have been proscribed.

Adjective: nonprescribed, prescribable
Noun: nonprescriber, prescriber
Verb: misprescribe, misprescribed, misprescribing
Adjective: proscribable, proscriptive, unproscribable, unproscribed
Noun: proscriber
History of the Word:
Late Middle English in the sense of confine within bounds. It is also a legal term meaning claim by prescription, from the Latin praescribere meaning direct in writing, from prae (before) + scribere (write). Late Middle English, in the sense of to outlaw, is from the Latin proscribere, from pro- (in front of) + scribere (write).

C’mon, get it out of your system, bitch, whine, moan…which words are your pet peeves? Also, please note that I try to be as accurate as I can, but mistakes happen or I miss something. Email me if you find errors, so I can fix them…and we’ll all benefit!

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Pinterest Photo Credits:

Dangerous and Unsafe” by David Brossard was uploaded by GrapedApe and under the CC BY-SA 2.0 license and “Mortar” is Vincent de Groot‘s own work under the GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0, or CC BY 2.5 license, via Wikimedia Commons.