Writing for Business

Aug 23 2011   4:27PM GMT

Just breath — or should that be “just breathe”?

Ivy Wigmore Ivy Wigmore Profile: Ivy Wigmore

typing Which is correct?
The CEO thought he could ______ easily once the antivirus software was updated but unfortunately he wasn’t protected againstĀ  social engineering tactics.
a. breath
b. breathe

Answer: b

Breath is the noun. You can take a breath, you can hold your breath, but you cannot breath — you have to breathe. I see this mistake just about on a daily basis online, often in writing that otherwise seems competent. A lot of people don’t seem to realize that there are two different forms. (And they aren’t necessarily the same folks that would write that as “alot of people.”)


It’s a bit like the CEO’s issue — he doesn’t understand that there are both technological security measures and behavioral security measures. And it doesn’t matter how many technological security measures you have in place if you and/or your users aren’t wised up. (See: PEBCAK — problem exists between chair and keyboard)

Up-to-date antivirus software can protect you from common known malware threats. (If it’s not up-to-date? Not so much. The bad guys are always coming up with new approaches.) A properly configured firewall can protect your network from intrusions. (If it’s not properly configured? Again, not so much.)

Social engineering is a type of method that someone uses to trick you into subverting your own security measures. Even if all your security measures are in place, up to date and properly set up, a sophisticated social engineering tactic can get you. The only way to protect yourself from them is to be constantly wary. Which means, I guess, that you can never really breathe easily.

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