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“mitigate against”

December 14, 2016

Last night I was watching a programme on BBC4 called The Inca: Masters of the Clouds, and the presenter was talking about the Inca technology of cutting the slopes of mountains into descending, stone-faced, circular terraces, which trapped and radiated warmth, so that it got warmer the further down the terraces you went, and different crops were grown on different levels. It was very interesting, and so jolly clever of those ancient Incas. Anyway, then the presenter said something like “It helped mitigate against the effects of adverse climate events” and I stopped feeling interested and felt annoyed instead.

Mitigated against?

No, it mitigated the effects of adverse climate events. It didn’t mitigate against them. What would that even mean? I suspect our presenter got mixed up with the expression militate against, which has a completely different meaning; it means to counter, oppose, or make less likely. The confusion is not uncommon but it still makes me grit my teeth.

Am I being pedantic? Of course. But as Bertrand Russell said, if a pedant is someone who is concerned that their statements are accurate, I am happy to be called a pedant.

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  1. Simon Carter permalink

    Is it just because they are near homonyms and mitigate has been more widely heard, albeit only via mitigating circumstances, so is the word adopted?
    A similar confusion has appeared with abrogating/abdicating responsibility .

  2. Yes, I’m sure you’re right. One often gets this confusion between near homonyms. I’ve noted it before with ‘enervate’ and ‘energise’. But what bugs me is that a professional historian and TV presenter, someone who gets paid to communicate with words, should make such a mistake!

  3. Simon Carter permalink

    And presumably there is a script editor who also missed the mistake.
    Enervate / energise is harder to explain; like confusing awake with asleep.

  4. Simon Carter permalink

    There was a line in the series Cheers, can’t remember the set up but the pay off was Woody the barman saying,
    “I thought it was one of those words that meant the opposite like flammable and inflammable. Boy, did I learn that one the hard way”.

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