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...]


Big-ups (sometimes unhyphenated, sometimes singular) is an idiom that entered American English and, less conspicuously, British English around 1990. It has several meanings, but in the U.S. and Britain, where it started in hip-hop culture, it's mainly used to acknowledge someone or to express … [Read more...]

Carte blanche

Carte blanche is French for white paper (though blanche here more accurately means blank, and carte is versatile in French, allowing for several alternative translations such as blank map and blank ticket). In English, we use it as a figurative noun meaning total freedom to act or full discretionary … [Read more...]



Where the verb agree means to come to an agreement (on something), Americans and Canadians make it intransitive, meaning it takes a preposition, usually on or to, when it has an object. For instance, opposing parties might agree on a compromise. Outside North America, especially in the U.K., the … [Read more...]

Inexplicable vs. unexplainable

Inexplicable and unexplainable are mostly interchangeable---both describe things that can't be explained---and using one in place of the other is never a serious error. They have differentiated slightly in modern use, though. Inexplicable tends to describe things that are seemingly without logic, … [Read more...]

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