Incentivize, incent

To incentivize (or incentivise outside North America) is to motivate using the expectation of a reward. A late-20th-century coinage, the word was originally voguish business jargon, but it has caught on more broadly in this century. Many people object to it, not just because it's new but also … [Read more...]

Je ne sais quoi

Je ne sais quoi is French for "I know not what." In English, we use it to refer to an intangible, distinctive quality, especially of a person, that can't be put in words---e.g., "I don't know what makes him so charming. He just has a certain je ne sais quoi." The phrase is often italicized and … [Read more...]

Grateful vs. gratified

Grateful means thankful. Gratified means satisfied or pleased---or, often, pleased to receive something one has worked for or long desired. Gratification doesn't necessarily involve gratitude; for instance, one might be gratified to see positive effects of one's hard work, or a victim of crime might … [Read more...]

Tolerance vs. toleration

Tolerance is a broadly defined noun with applications in science, medicine, and mechanics, in addition to its common use referring to one's acceptance of others' rights, beliefs, and practices. Toleration is mainly a less common variant of tolerance, though there are qualifications to this that … [Read more...]

Many vs. much

Many modifies things that can be counted (i.e., count nouns). Much modifies things that can't be counted (i.e., mass nouns). In other words, many tends to modify plural nouns, and much tends to modify singular nouns. For example, we write many doctors, many stars, and many dollars because these … [Read more...]

Blue collar, white collar

The term blue-collar describes working-class people, especially those who work in manufacturing, construction, and other fields involving manual labor and hourly wages. It also describes things having to do with working-class people, such as the areas where they live and their shared concerns, and … [Read more...]

Hash out, thrash out

In the U.S., to hash out is to have a discussion, especially one meant to arrive at a deal or a resolution. The corresponding phrase outside North America is thrash out, which is used almost exactly the same way. Hash out is the preferred term in Canada, but thrash out is more common in Canadian … [Read more...]

Pall vs. pallor

As nouns, pall and pallor are unrelated. Pall refers primarily to a cloth draped over a coffin, and this definition gives rise to metaphorical senses: (1) something that shrouds or spreads over (e.g., a pall of fog), and (2) a gloomy atmosphere (as in the phrase cast a pall over). Pallor refers … [Read more...]

Swan song

In ancient legend, there are types of swans that either sing most beautifully when they are dying or never sing until just before death. Despite being untrue, the legend has survived from antiquity into modern times, probably because it lends itself so well to poetic allegory. Today it lives on … [Read more...]

Disenfranchise vs. disfranchise


Disfranchise and disenfranchise mean the same: to deprive of rights or privileges. Disfranchise is the traditional form, but it has given way to disenfranchise over the last several decades, and the latter now prevails by a large margin. This is the case in all main varieties of English, and it is … [Read more...]

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