Quixotic describes something or someone as hopeful to the point of foolishness, often in achieving ideals or impossible tasks. Contrary to its origin, Quixote, quixotic is pronounced  /kwɪkˈsɒtɪk/ (kwix-ah-tic). Examples This quixotic juggling of the personal and the socio-historical has delighted some but infuriated others, especially within the M25 or the home counties. [Guardian] More than a quarter of a century ago a small band of pro-devolution Scottish Conservatives embarked upon a … [Read more...]

Obliged vs. obligated

As a transitive verb oblige can mean to restrict by force or circumstances. To be obliged is to be in someone's debt because of a favor or service. Obligate carries a slightly different meaning, which is to force someone (or an organization) to do something because the law or morality requires it. Over the last hundred years, obliged has fallen in use while obligated has risen very slightly, though obliged is still more common. Examples One of the parties with a reporting duty is the … [Read more...]

Writ large

Writ large is a phrase meaning obvious or clear. Writ is an archaic form of 'written'. So one can understand the idiom writ large as something written largely or magnified. However, it should always be in reference to a specific noun, used after said noun, and not as a verbal phrase (e.g., is writ large). It does not require the use of commas. Can also be used in the forms writ larger and writ largest. Examples Waleed Aly was right to remind us that while there may be important wins, … [Read more...]


Hand-wash is a verb meaning to wash something by hand. Hand soap can sometimes be referred to as handwash or hand wash. When talking about the act of washing one's hands, there is not a official listing in most dictionaries. Medical reference books use the spelling of handwashing, but most other sources, including spell check, use hand washing. When describing objects that may only be hand-washed, it is most common to say hand wash only. A water source used for hand washing, usage seems to be … [Read more...]

Udder vs. utter

An udder is a mammary organ that secretes milk, characteristic of cows and other mammals. Utter is an adjective describing something as complete or absolute.  Utter is also a verb meaning to speak or to put forged money into circulation.   Examples A team of volunteers from Gosford SES got an udder surprise when they were called to a more unusual rescue in Somersby this week, to lift a calf out of a ditch. [Daily Telegraph] "It's just an utter tragedy to lose a man of that … [Read more...]

Purple prose

Purple prose is a noun phrase used to describe prose that is showy, elaborate, or overemotional. The term is used particularly when the writing gets in the way of the reader's experience. It does not need quotation marks or a hyphen. History The term is attributed to the Roman poet Horace, who died in 8 BC. The Latin words professis purpureus have been translated as purple patches, purple cloth, or purple prose. In that time period purple was specifically associated with … [Read more...]

Machine gun vs. machine-gun

Machine gun is a noun phrase that is defined as a weapon that fires bullets rapidly as long as the trigger is held down. When hyphenated, as machine-gun, the word becomes an adjective used to describe things that happen very quickly. Machine-gun can also be a verb, to shoot something with a machine gun. However, in practice, the common spelling is machine gun for both verb and adjective forms.   Examples A policewoman was under investigation today after her machine gun went off … [Read more...]

Dark horse

A dark horse is something or someone that is perceived to be an unlikely winner and does, in fact, succeed, usually in a competition. It should always be spelled as two words, and does not need to be set apart by quotation marks. The term was, unsurprisingly, coined in horse racing when the winner was unknown to the gamblers, sometimes by the design of the jockeys and trainers. It first appeared in print in 1831, but by 1844 it was used in the United States for political candidates who won … [Read more...]

Shall vs. will

In the future tense, the use of shall and will is easily distinguished. One is always expected to use will. In questions, it is still appropriate to use shall for first person singular (I) and plural (we). However, using shall usually carries a subtext of comedy or irony. Most use will in all cases. The original usage of will and shall was able to carry more meaning. If a person wanted to have what he or she said carry a sense of duty or honor, he or she would use shall for the second and … [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...]

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