Today’s word choice tip: Uncharted

A familiar phrase in news stories refers to uncertainty. Here is an example:

After coming out as a gay man eight years ago, Brett Webb-Mitchell left his wife, his Carrboro home, and his job to start a new and uncharted course at the age of 44.

“Uncharted” means unmapped, so an “uncharted course” means that someone is on a journey without the benefit of a map. Sometimes “uncharted” is rendered as “unchartered.” It happens commonly enough that when I put the phrase “unchartered waters” in a Google search, the program asked me if I meant “uncharted waters.” I found a television reality series in Australia titled “Unchartered Waters.” I also found several stories about charter schools that were headlined “Unchartered Territory,” a play on words that indicates the headline writers know the difference between “uncharted” and “unchartered.”

The other thing I found in Googling these terms is that a number of people are annoyed when writers mix up “uncharted” and “unchartered.” If you mean an uncertain path, write “uncharted.”

This article was originally posted by the Raleigh News & Observer, a subsidiary of The McClatchy Co.; is posted here to provide continuity; and is copyright © 2011 The News & Observer Publishing Company, which reserves the right to remove this post.