Bough vs. bow

A bough (pronounced /bau/) is a main branch of a tree. Its homonym bow has several meanings including: to quit a competition, to bend the body in an act of submission or reverence, to acknowledge applause, or debut. Bow can be pronounced /bo/ and has an alternate meaning. It can be a tie of a ribbon, a weapon made to shoot arrows, or a rod strung with hair to play a stringed instrument. Examples There is an instinctive fear in all of us, probably dating back to primeaval times, when it … [Read more...]

Moose vs. mooses

A moose is a large animal with antlers that is found in the northern forests of America, Europe, and Asia. Its plural is moose, not mooses. Though Mooses is a surname. Examples Moose are less likely to move from the road than deer, so drivers are advised to brake when they see a moose in or near the road. Their long legs and top-heavy bodies make moose very dangerous to motorists when struck. [Boston Herald] It was a taste of things to come, as Northern Ontario is famed for its natural … [Read more...]


An accoutrement  is a clothing or equipment accessory. The French pronunciation is ackoo-truh-mahn, but the word has been adopted into the English language for centuries, so the anglicized pronunciation ackoo-treh-ment. Examples You could live in the inner city in an apartment shaped by clean, minimalist European lines and immerse yourself within the cultural delights of the city’s finest institutions and cultural accoutrement. [The Australian] The imagery links together the bridge, among … [Read more...]

Civilise vs. civilize

Outside North America, civilise is the spelling for the word which means to bring a place or people to a stage of increased social standards. In North America, it is spelled civilize. The spelling change runs throughout all forms of the word. Examples According to a study published in Current Anthropology, our transition into modern civilization might have coincided with our species' drop in testosterone. [Washington Post] A thousand years before Rome or Christ or Buddha, there existed a … [Read more...]

Right-side up

The noun phrase right-side up describes a direction in which the correct side of an object is facing up. Right-side is a hyphenated compound noun, while up  completes the noun phrase. There is some transition happening with hyphens in general. It is easy to see this phrase merging to one word in the future similar to upside, but as for now use the hyphen. Examples It was like a real tsunami because the whole room was upside-down [shot to look right-side up] so all that stood between us and a … [Read more...]

Gage, gauge, and gouge

Besides being a surname, a gage is something given as a security of an obligation, such as a glove or hat in a duel. It is also a variant spelling of gauge, though the latter spelling is much more common. Gauge can be an tool that measures and displays the level of something. Or as a verb gauge can be to judge or assess something, to use a gauge, or to stretch something wider, specifically ear lobes. The last definition is not yet entered into the dictionary, but understood … [Read more...]


Fracking is a shortened version of the phrase hydraulic fracturing, a process which uses high-pressured liquid to force gas or oil out of the earth. Examples Shale oil and gas drilling employing hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, produces millions of gallons of chemical-laced wastewater. [ABC News] Anti-fracking campaigners apparently super-glued themselves to the doors of a government building as part of orchestrated protests around the UK. [BBC] In a motion passed unanimously on … [Read more...]

Improvise vs. improvize

In an instance of agreement, the proper spelling is the same everywhere in the English-speaking world: improvise. It means to speak without preparation or invent something using the materials at hand. Examples However, the actress says that the western dance helps her to improvise and fine tune skills as a dancer. [Times of India] Welcome to Suspects, an hour-long, case-of-the-week police procedural for Channel Five that's unique in that the dialogue is completely improvised. [The … [Read more...]


An also-ran is someone who lost a race, either athletic or political, by a large margin, or someone of little significance. It is hyphenated. Examples Texas Gov. Rick Perry got some good news last week. In a FOX News poll, Perry moved from an also-ran in the contest for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination to a tie for first place with former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. [WUWM]. “I know I’m in the right spot, and I don’t feel like I’m just going to be an also-ran now,” Levins said. “I … [Read more...]

Hairy vs. harry

Hairy can mean either being covered in hair, or causing fear or difficulty. The word has carried this dual meaning since the mid 19th century. To harry is to persistently attack or harass. It has been around since before the 12th century. Examples Probably the most obvious quirk about the driving dynamics of the FPVs was that the front-end tendency to bounce around a bit - all well and good when you're on a racetrack but a little hairy when the chosen track is a Coromandel back road. … [Read more...]

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