Like a bull in a china shop

Like a bull in a china shop means behaving in a clumsy manner, behaving in a reckless manner, rushing head-long into a situation without forethought. When one behaves like a bull in a china shop, one inflicts damage, whether literally or figuratively. The idiom like a bull in a china shop may have its roots in a metaphor provided by Aesop of an ass in a pottery shop. The term like a bull in a china shop appears in the early 1800s and is popularized in cartoons and song. Interestingly, many other … [Read more...]

Busman’s holiday

A busman's holiday is a vacation during which a person engages in the same sort of activity that he does at work. To an observer, a busman's holiday wouldn't seem to be much of a vacation at all. Busman's holiday is a British term, probably stemming from the practice in the latter half of the 1800s for the working class to take bus day-trips on holidays, a bus driver who went on such a trip would be going on a busman's holiday. Some say the idea of a busman's holiday is based on a joke. Busman's … [Read more...]


Rambunctious means overly exuberant, unruly, extremely boisterous. Rambunctious is first seen in print in Boston, Massachusetts in 1830 spelled as rumbunctious, probably derived from an earlier word, rumbustious, which means boisterous or turbulent. An alternative explanation is that rambunctious is derived from the prefix ram-, which intensifies the meaning of the word to which it is attached, and bumptious, a word meaning assertive. Either way, rambunctious is one of many American words coined … [Read more...]

Pearl vs purl

A pearl is a lustrous, spherical gem that grows inside an oyster, clam or other bi-valve mollusk. A pearl is made up of calcium carbonate that forms in layers around a speck of sand. Pearls are generally white or grayish. Pearl may also be used to describe an artificial gem that resembles a pearl or something with the luster or color of a pearl. Pearl may be used as a noun, adjective or verb to describe applying pearls decoratively or harvesting pearls. Related words are pearls, pearled, … [Read more...]

Gentle vs genteel

Gentle means having a mild manner or character, not harsh in temperate. Gentle may also describe a slight slope or easily tamed animal. Gentle may be used as an adjective or a verb, related words are gentles, gentled, gentling. An archaic use of gentle is to describe someone of noble birth or someone who is chivalrous. Gentle comes from the Latin word gentilis which means of the same family or clan, taking on the meaning of being mild-mannered in the fifteenth century. Genteel means refined, … [Read more...]

Alternately vs alternatively

Alternately means several things taken in turn, consecutively, one after another. Alternately is an adverb formed by adding -ly to the word alternate, which comes from the Latin word alternatus meaning one after the other. Alternatively means another choice, on the other hand, another possibility. Alternatively is an adverb formed by adding -ly to the word alternative, which also derives from the Latin word alternatus. Remember, alternately refers to several things following each other in … [Read more...]

Fire in the hole vs fire in the hold

Fire in the hole is a warning that an explosion is about to occur. The phrase fire in the hole originated in the American coal mines where miners used dynamite to loosen the rock. Dynamite was detonated in small spaces, and miners used the warning fire in the hole to alert their fellow workers to take cover. In fact, mining regulations call for the warning fire in the hole to be verbalized three times before ignition. Today, the military has adopted the term to warn of an impending explosion of … [Read more...]

Warn vs worn

Warn means to advise someone in advance of impending danger. Warn also means to advise someone that their behavior or actions will bring unpleasant consequences. Related words are warns, warned, warning, warner. Warn comes from the Old English word warnian, which means to give notice of impending danger. Worn is the past participle of wear, to put on one's body as clothing or protection. Worn is also used as an adjective to mean shabby, tired, damaged. The noun form is wornness.  Worn comes … [Read more...]

Run of the mill and run-of-the-mill

Run of the mill means the usual, not out of the ordinary, unspectacular. The idiom run of the mill comes from a time when machinery began to be used in factories and mills, items that were once custom-made by hand were now cranked out for consumption by the masses. The idiom run of the mill was first used in the early 1900s in reference to a weaving mill, which put out unremarkable clothes for consumption by the masses. Run of the mill may be hyphenated as run-of-the-mill, but like many … [Read more...]

Desperate vs disparate

Desperate describes a situation or feeling that is tremendously hopeless, that invokes despair. Animals or people who are desperate may exhibit risky behavior as they have nothing to lose. Desperate is an adjective, the adverb form is desperately and the noun form is desperateness. Desperate is derived from the Latin word desperatus, which means given up, despaired of. Disparate means absolutely different, not of a kind. Disparate describes things that are not comparable. Disparate is an … [Read more...]

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