Prescribe vs. Proscribe
Only one letter separates this oppositional pair. To prescribe is to order the use of or set out a rule. From this we get a prescription, which sets out how you are to take a particular medicine. We also get prescriptive grammar, which is grammar that presumes that there is one set of grammatical rules that everyone should follow.
In contrast, to proscribe is to forbid, ban or denounce. It originates from the Latin meaning to post in writing and described the 16th century practice of posting public notices about those who had been condemned.
To keep the usage straight, think of this. If you are studying at college your set texts are prescribed, while texts that you are not allowed to read are proscribed.
Some times even large publications get it wrong, like here:
Prosecutors have portrayed 57-year-old Martin MacNeill as a lying adulterer who pestered his 50-year-old wife to get a face-lift and persuaded her plastic surgeon to proscribe a mix of potentially lethal pills for her recovery. (USA Today)
Some emergency room doctors are far more likely than others even within their own department to prescribe opioids to treat pain in older people, and their patients are at greater risk of using the powerful drugs chronically than those who saw doctors who prescribe them less frequently, according to a large new study. (NY Times)
Increasingly, the rules of workplace culture proscribe all sorts of talk about sex, and enforce this proscription with ”sensitivity training” and strategic mention of lawsuits. (NY Times)
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