There’s a big difference between “prescribed” drugs and “proscribed” drugs. The “prescribed” are the ones a health care professional has recommended for you and has given you a “prescription” for. “Proscribed” drugs are illegal.

There’s a big difference between “prescribed” drugs and “proscribed” drugs.

The “prescribed” are the ones a health care professional has recommended for you and has given you a “prescription” for.

“Proscribed” drugs are illegal.

The prefix “pro-” is generally associated with positive actions: “defending, supporting”; “substituting for, acting for”; or “moving forward or ahead of.” The “pros” are in favor of something, and the “cons” are against.

“Pro-” also can mean “before in place or time.”

In the case of “proscribe,” it’s a bit of a challenge to see where the “pro-” comes in. The base of the word is rooted in the Latin “scribere” — “to write.”

The original use of “proscribe” was in ancient Rome, where it meant “to publish the name of (a person) condemned to death, banishment, etc.” Later, it acquired the additional definitions “to deprive of the protection of the law, outlaw”; “to banish, exile”; and “to denounce or forbid the practice, use, etc. of, interdict.”

To be proscribed is not an affirmative action.

Wake-up call

This one comes up at least once a year. The verbs “wake,” “awake,” “waken” and “awaken” essentially mean the same thing, and each can be intransitive (you come out of sleep on your own) or transitive (someone else brings you out of your slumber).

The trouble begins when we leave the present. Webster’s lists “woke or waked” for the past tense of “wake” and “waked or woken” for the past participle. That last one appeared in our paper recently in “he has since woken and is recovering.”

Bryan A. Garner says in “Garner’s Modern American Usage” that “waked” is preferred in American English, while “woken” is the more common one in British English.

Either is correct, but “woken” is less welcome in this country. In fact, some proscribe it.

I’m also reminded of the noun “wake,” whose specialized meaning is “a watch over or viewing of a corpse before burial, formerly often with festivities.” I’m in favor of preserving that last part — celebrating a person’s life in addition to mourning the death.

But “wake” always seemed to be a strange word for a gathering at which the honored person cannot wake.

Relatively important

I recently received an email from a retired teacher who has noticed that “importantly” is much more common these days than when she was in school.

Garner concurs in his book, writing that the word “is enjoying an odd vogue nowadays.” However, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t work.

The most common objection is leveled at the phrase “more importantly” (or “most importantly”) at the start of a sentence:

“The doctor said I’m on the road to recovery. More importantly, I think I’ve learned my lesson.”

Mark Davidson writes in “Right, Wrong, and Risky” that this “widely used introductory phrase ... is denounced as ungrammatical by many usagists.” They suggest going with “what is more important” — which “more importantly” is a shorter way of saying.

But Garner says criticism of “more importantly” “has always been rather muted and obscure, and today it has dwindled to something less than muted and obscure. So writers needn’t fear any criticism” if they use it.

I guess you need to decide how important that is to you.

Contact Barry Wood at bwood@rrstar.com or read his blog at blogs.e-rockford.com/woodonwords/.