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 … [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 … [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 … [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 … [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 … [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 … [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 … [Read more...]

Mealy-mouthed

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 … [Read more...]

Fly-by-night

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, … [Read more...]

Memento mori

A memento mori is something, especially an object, that serves as a reminder of mortality. Memento mori tend to be ominous or frightening items; for example, skulls and representations of skulls have traditionally served as memento mori. But the term can also denote less ominous things, such as a … [Read more...]

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