Sometimes the use of certain terms in writing and conversation is so common, we think the usage is correct. So it’s no surprise we found these errors while editing authors’ work this week. But you don’t have to make the same mistakes.

For all six entries, you get the original usage in red, an explanation of the right terms, and a writing tip in green. Let’s go:

1. Semi as in semitrailer

Investigators believe they know why two semi-trucks hit head-on near a Saranac gas station in a three-vehicle crash that killed a truck driver from Hudsonville.

The prefix semi means “half,” so its meaning hints at the meaning of semitrailer. Avoid calling something a semitruck. A semi is a trailer with a half-set of wheels — a pair on the back, but none on the front because the front of the rig is attached to the tractor or truck bed. Sometimes people refer to a semi meaning “a big truck,” but that’s technically wrong. A truck pulling a trailer with wheels on the front and the back is not a semi. It’s a big-ass tractor-trailer rig, something like a gravel hauler. The definitions beg the question, can two semis ever hit head-on? Probably not unless they were disconnected from their tractors and sliding down opposing snow slopes into a valley. However, two semis could have a rear-end collision in a parking lot.

Note: if you are a romance writer, then maybe you intend semi to mean something else entirely, so feel free to check the Urban dictionary to confirm your disappointment:

2. Cement vs. Concrete

Jared was flung head-long toward the station wall; he tripped on his own coat, cracked his head on the cement, and by the time he’d gotten back on his feet…

Of course, it is possible Jared hurt his head on the cement, but he may have died had he hit his head on the concrete. Concrete and cement are distinct objects. Cement is a component of concrete. It’s the glue that holds together rocks, rebar, and sand. Mixed together with water, these elements create concrete. A consumer buys cement in a bag. A city hires a contractor to create a concrete sidewalk. A floater with a trowel may pull a large quantity of cement to the surface of his concrete mixture to create an extremely smooth pathway, but it was the hardened concrete that spilled Jared’s blood.

3. 12:00 p.m.

A meeting of the New York State Law Enforcement Council is scheduled at 12:00 p.m.

The careful writer knows there is no such thing as 12:00 p.m. Neither is there any sense to 12:00 a.m. The abbreviation a.m. stands for “ante meridiem,“ and p.m. means “post meridiem.“ If the sun is directly overhead in the afternoon, it is precisely in alignment with the longitudinal meridian. The sun is neither in front of or behind the meridian. We have a term for that. It’s called noon. In the evening, the opposite is midnight. Also midnight is used to denote the part of the day that is ending, not the part that starting. Using a.m. and p.m. inappropriately can lead to confusion, which is why airlines and trains avoid scheduling transportation exactly at 12 noon. They prefer 12:01 p.m.

Tip: While we are on the subject, never write 12:01 p.m. this afternoon or any similar construction; it is redundant.

4. Robbed Vs. Burgled

I am out some $3,000 due to my home being robbed when we weren’t home.

Modern vernacular is erasing the distinction between the terms robbery and burglary. Polished writers are not confused. Robberies are usually done in person. Imagine a movie’s bank scene and or late-night liquor-store noir. Robbery is a crime defined by taking something of value by fear, force, or a threat of force. Fear, force and threats are absent to burglars. They usually break in stealthily and hope never to be discovered. When a stranger points a gun at clerk’s face and says, “Give me all the cash in your drawer,” that’s a robbery. When the clerk goes home, and the perp breaks the store window and steals the safe, that’s a burglary.

Tip: To be more poetic with your crime scenes, try avoiding words ending in ize. Therefore, consider using the word burgled instead of burglarized.

5. Paparazzi vs. Paparazzo

We were on the news tonight because a paparazzi followed us last night and took pictures of us walking into the hotel.

If only one photographer was following this couple, then the correct term is paparazzo, the singular version of the often-used term papaeazzi. But perhaps the writer in this example the forgot her collective noun and mean “a swarm of paparazzi,” in which case they must be hugely famous (in a good way) or infamous (in a bad way).

Trivia: Paparazzi are usually freelance photographers. If you are being followed by ABC, NBC, and CBS, you are probably an ordinary Joe in the news, not as famous as someone being followed by paparazzi. The reason is there is no freelance market for your image.

6. Boil, Simmer and Simmer Down

…add 1 cup of old-fashioned rolled oats, turn the heat to low and simmer the oats 5 minutes.

Writers get into trouble using these words both literally and metaphorically. Good writing is about describing the world precisely to communicate exact thoughts from one set of perceptions to another’s person’s. So boil is easy to use correctly because the bubbling action in a boiling pot is obvious.

A boiling temperature is 212 degrees at sea level. Bringing something to a simmer is less precise – a state of liquid at a temperature between 180 and 190 degrees. A cookbook writer is still not in trouble by simply saying, “bring the water to a boil, then simmer.”

The trouble begins when writers and cooks instruct that a pot of boiling water can simmer by “reducing stove temperatures to low.”

With that understanding, a cook is probably just keeping a liquid warm, A simmer is a point just under boiling, and a writer cannot give universal instructions on how to achieve a simmer. It depends on what’s in the pot, the altitude, the type of heat, and the type of pan.

Suffice it to say, simmer is still considerably hot. For a simmer, never give instructions to “turn the heat to low.” A person following precise directions must lower the heat until bubbles are present under the water, but escaping ever so slowly because of surface water tension.

A lesson about metaphors: Writing precisely, a person who says he is “boiling over with anger” is out of control. A person who has simmered down has not moved to a state of relaxation but simply to a state just below rage and his boiling point. Equate your metaphors to the physics of the real world. Most writing metaphors using boil and simmer down are inaccurate when, for boiling over, the meaning  is “angry but not out of control,” or when, for  simmered down, the intended meaning is that the person’s “anger has passed.”