Affect vs. effect

Affect and effect are two of the most commonly confused homophones in the English language. Homophones are words that are pronounced in the same way but are spelled differently and have different meanings. We will examine the definitions of the words affect and effect, their proper use and some examples of that use in sentences. The word affect is used in three different ways. Most often, affect is used as a verb to mean to change or influence something or to make a difference to something. … [Read more...]

Manner vs. manor

A manner is (1) a way of doing something, (2) a bearing or demeanor, and (3) a type. The plural form, manners, refers to a manner of behavior considered to be social correct. Constructions involving manner can often be shortened to single adverbs. For example, in a calm manner and in a public manner can give way to calmly and publicly. Some such phrases lack one-word equivalents, however---e.g., in a timely manner. A manor is (1) the estate of a European lord, or (2) the main house of a … [Read more...]

Get religion

Traditionally, to get religion is (1) to become religious, or (2) to end one's immoral behavior. The phrase still carries those definitions, but it's also used more figuratively to mean (1) to get serious about an issue and devote proper attention to it, and (2) to reform one's view toward something. The idiom is usually followed by a preposition; about and on work best. The derivation of the modern definition of get religion is obvious. To get religion in the older sense is to see the light … [Read more...]

Short shrift

The idiom short shrift means brief and unsympathetic treatment.1 Shrift comes from the archaic verb shrive, meaning to impose a penance upon. In its original form short shrift referred to a brief period of penance granted to a person condemned to death so he or she could be cured of immorality before execution.2 This original meaning has little relation to the modern sense of short shrift, which usually bears negative connotations. One usually does not want to be given short shrift. Examples I … [Read more...]

Tenant vs. tenet

A tenet is a principle held as being true, especially by an organization or a group of people. A tenant is (1) someone who pays rent to occupy property; (2) a dweller in a place; and, (3) in law, one who holds or possesses lands, tenements, or property by any kind of title. Examples Tenet He said it was unethical and goes against the tenets of Islam. [Arab News (dead link)] By destroying this very tenet of capitalism - that the losers actually lose so that new ideas, people, companies … [Read more...]


For a person, to be mealy-mouthed is to tend to say things in indirect, evasive, or deceptive ways. A mealy-mouthed statement is one that is indirect or evasive. The word is usually meant negatively; when people speak in mealy-mouthed ways, we tend to think they're afraid to speak plainly, are trying to trick us, or are avoiding saying what they really think for reasons of self-interest. The term comes up often in reference to politicians and their statements. The word has a closely related, … [Read more...]

Rivaled/rivaling vs. rivalled/rivalling

In American English, the verb rival is usually inflected rivaled and rivaling, with one l. Outside the U.S., the more traditional double-l forms, rivalled and rivalling, are standard. Rival is one of a class of l-ending verbs whose inflected forms have lost the second l in American English. This has happened in two waves. The first group of verbs, which includes travel, fuel, and label, permanently lost the second l in the early decades of the 20th century. The second group, which includes … [Read more...]


Fly-by-night was originally a noun referring to one who goes out at night,1 usually for some wicked or mischievous purpose. It later gained a slang sense, referring to someone who gets out of a bill or a debt by fleeing in the middle of the night. From this derives the modern sense: today, fly-by-night is usually an adjective describing a fraudulent or dishonest business or money-making scheme. Fly-by-night operations tend to sell shoddy goods or to promise more than they can deliver, and … [Read more...]

Lay out vs. layout

Lay out is a phrasal verb meaning (1) to make a plan, (2) to knock to the ground, (3) to explain or describe, (4) to display, (5) to arrange, and (6) to prepare a corpse for a funeral. Like many phrasal verbs, it has a corresponding one-word form that functions as both a noun and an adjective but not as a verb. Layout's main definitions are (1) a plan, and (2) the arrangement of elements in a space. Examples Lay out On a flat, clean surface, lay out four sheets of filo or brik and fold in … [Read more...]


To Mirandize is to inform an arrested suspect of his or her rights. The word derives from the Miranda v. Arizona U.S. Supreme Court ruling, which held that self-incriminating statements made by a crime suspect are not admissible in court unless the suspect is first informed of his or her rights to silence and legal counsel. The verb started as law-enforcement jargon, but it now appears elsewhere. Some usage authorities frown on Mirandize, advocating instead phrases such as read him his … [Read more...]

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