‘… hundreds of angry one-star reviews were left by people who can’t all have received advanced copies [of a new book]’  – The Week, 24 June 2023

I thought this misuse of ‘advanced’ for ‘advance’ was restricted to signs on the roads notifying the public of marathons and other future disruptive activities. Now here it is in mainstream journalism, but still clearly a mistake. 

We’re familiar enough with the phrase, on large yellow road-signs, ‘advance warning’, meaning information provided in advance of an event – only too often some maddening road-works that enormously prolong journey-time, and last far longer than seems necessary (and when actual work on the site is conspicuous by its absence). But we also often see the same idea rendered ‘advanced warning’, which is never what the writer means.

The confusion with ‘advanced,’ signifying ‘progressive’ or ‘at a stage beyond the elementary’ is the common one of mistaking a particular word for one of similar sound, or appearance on the page. The two terms, ‘advance’ and advanced’ have clearly different meanings, and are indeed different parts of speech: the first being prepositional, the second adjectival. And as so often in these cases, the superficial similarity tends to remove the real difference, and important distinctions of sense are elided and obscured. 

These blurrings of meaning are never welcome, however much we ignore them or persuade ourselves that they don’t matter. They affect the precision and clarity of the language we use all the time to communicate with one another, and even small erosions of that precision increase the chances of misunderstanding. I wonder if the writer of my quotation, learnedly concerned with recent literature, was aware of being influenced by semi-literate road-sign writers?

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