A powwow is an American Indian social gathering, which usually includes dancing and singing. In previous centuries it was also a time when they gathered to discuss things that pertained to the whole tribe. Today, it is mainly for social reasons. The powwow can last for days. It's plural is powwows.  It is sometimes spelled with a hyphen or as two words, but this is incorrect. The term has come to be used for any gathering of people who need to talk about a particular topic that will … [Read more...]

Hands on or hands-on

As an adjective hands-on should be hyphenated. It describes something as using one's hands or being learned by physical action rather than theory. The compound is sometimes confused in the phrase be hands-on, however, since one can be an adjective, the hyphen is still used. A similar, though unrelated, verb is to hand on or to pass along something. In the second person this verb makes hands on, however, the distinction between the adjective and the verb should be clear from context. One … [Read more...]


A rigmarole is a long and complicated process or story. One can be put through a rigmarole if a process is made difficult intentionally. Because of the sometimes added spoken syllable (e.g., /ˈriɡ(ə)məˌrōl/), the term is commonly misspelled as rigamarole. It should be noted that some dictionaries do list rigamarole as an alternate spelling, but it is not universally accepted. The plural is rigmaroles, though the term is usually used in the singular form. Rigmarole comes as an alteration … [Read more...]


As a noun, a halcyon is a kingfisher, or at least a bird which we have associated with the kingfisher. It is part of a Greek legend in which it calmed the sea. As an adjective, halcyon describes something or someone to be joyful, peaceful, or prosperous. The most common use is to describe a period of time as the halcyon days, which is a reference to the myth. According to the Greeks, the Halcyon days come every January. The seas would be calm so that the kingfisher's eggs were protected … [Read more...]

Interview with Jonathon Owen

Grammarist is happy to introduce Jonathon Owen, editor, layout artist, T-shirt man and writer of the very popular blog, Arrant Pedantry. Please introduce yourself and provide some background information. My name is Jonathon Owen, and I’m an editor, layout artist, and freelance writer. I’ve been working in editing and layout for about thirteen years, and last year I finished a master’s degree in linguistics. I blog about grammar, usage, editing, and other popular language issues. I also … [Read more...]

Happy median or happy medium

The correct idiom is happy medium and not happy median. The confusion of a phrase based on its pronunciation is called an eggcorn. Medium is the middle term for size, in between large and small. It is also the name for people who believe they can channel thoughts from the  dead, and the term for materials used by an artist. Median is the middle of a set of numbers, as well as the divider in a road. But while happy median does make logical sense, the standardphrase, which has been in use … [Read more...]

Leaned or leant

To lean is to slope or be diagonal from the ground. Someone or someone can lean on something else for support. An alternative is to put pressure on an object by leaning on it. The progressive form is leaning. The past tense and past participle make the form leaned. Lean belongs to a list of irregular verbs which have a past tense option which adds -t instead of -ed. Learnt, leapt, dreamt, crept, dealt, dwelt, lent, rent, smelt, spelt, spilt, spoilt, and bereft are also included in this group. … [Read more...]


Restive is an adjective used to describe something as restless or fidgety. Politically it is used to describe regions in unrest or without peace. Restive is also used in reference to horses when they refuse to move forward by standing still or sliding backwards. Its derivatives include the adverb restively and the noun restiveness. Restive has seen an absolute reversal in definitions. The original word came from the Old French word restif which meant to remain still. The association with … [Read more...]


A shiv is a knife or sharp instrument used as a weapon in prison made from contraband materials. The plural form is shivs. The original spelling was chiv, a Romani word meaning blade, but this spelling has become obsolete. As a verb shiv becomes shivs, shivving, and shivved. These forms are firmly rooted as slang, and as such do not appear in print publications too often. Though they may be more popular in speech. Shiv is also a common male first name, after the Hindu god Shiva, the … [Read more...]

Prebiotic vs probiotic

A prebiotic is a non-digestible chemical or ingredient which acts as food for good bacteria and flora in the intestinal tract. It is generally used in its plural prebiotics, since it is rare that only one is added to a food. They naturally occur in foods such as garlic, honey, onions, and bananas. A probiotic is the bacteria itself which lives in the intestinal tract. They naturally occur in foods such as yogurt. They are also normally discussed in the plural probiotics. Both words are not … [Read more...]

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