I don’t (generally) use this space for lessons in grammar, but the question of correct usage of the words “principle” and “principal” came up twice in less than 24 hours.
I was at the bank yesterday paying some money against our mortgage principal. I noticed that the
teller customer service representative wrote “principle” on the receipt, but I did not correct her (one must choose one’s battles carefully) ? anyway, I hope my money goes to the right place.
This afternoon one of the other
secretaries administrative professionals in our office was debating something with our boss; my ears perked up (is that the phrase) when I heard someone say, “Is it ‘le’ or ‘al’?” I knew immediately what it was about; the boss was insisting it should be principAL while the AP was insisting that it was principLE, her argument being that principals are only those persons who run schools. (Note: she was a little overconfident, I’d say. The boss has been in legal practice for over thirty years and is likely to know the correct usage in a legal document.)
I chimed in, “No, it is ‘PrincipAL.” The other AP still didn’t believe us. I went straight to dictionary.com (we have an actual dictionary in the office, but this was easier).
Their explanation (and they explain it much better than I could):
Principal and principle are often confused but have no meanings in common. Principle is only a noun and usually refers to a rule or standard. Principal is both a noun and an adjective. As a noun, it has specialized meanings in law and finance, but in general usage it refers to a person who holds a high position or plays an important role…
So a good principle for principle is that principle has one principal usage, whereas principal doesn’t really have a principal usage in principle, except maybe when referring to a Principal .
Yeah, so I’m a bit of a nerd when it comes to this kind of thing. The greater meaning of this brand of nerdishness causes me a bit of anxiety, but that’s something for another post.
Anyway, just so you know. Class dismissed.