SIR: I assume you've discussed "presume" and "assume" before. May I presume on your good nature by asking for yet another explanation? I'm still confused. - Tom W.
ANSWER: Let's try to unweave this tangled web. First, the two words have meanings that don't overlap. "Assume" may mean to feign, to put on, to undertake or to adopt. "Presume" means none of that, but it does mean to take liberties and act overconfidently, which "assume" doesn't.Now. The confusion comes in the use of both words to mean suppose, take for granted or infer. They are often used interchangeably, but to presume actually expresses a strong conviction based on some good reason, while to assume is to suppose or advance a hypothesis.
So when Stanley asked, "Dr. Livingston, I presume?" he was correct, and it would have been inaccurate, as well as ill-mannered, if the response had been, "Yeah, that was presumptuous of you, boy." But Livingston would never have said a thing like that.
SIR: Last October I asked you about the use of "let go" to mean terminate, which is driving me to distraction. As of today, you have not answered my query. I hear it continuously on programs where the participants should know better. I really would appreciate it if you would answer. - Bill C.
ANSWER: I did, sir, last December, though your editor may well have had to delete it for space reasons. (You do understand I cannot guarantee answers to all questions.)
I noted that there's nothing wrong with saying "let go"; among other things, it means to dismiss or cease to employ. I do hope this response will help you to let go of your distractions.
QUERULOUS QUERY of the week, from R.V.T.:
"My newspaper had an item about a letter, `apparently sent by a former woman who slipped into an underground network over a year ago . . . .' What will those sex-change people think up next?"