Bridle vs. bridal

When we're talking about horses, harnesses, restraints, or horse trails (i.e., bridle trails), the word is bridle. Its origins are in the Old English word bregdan, meaning to braid.  When we're talking about a woman who is getting married (i.e., a bride), the word is bridal. This word comes from … [Read more...]

Chock-full

The word meaning full to the limit is chock-full. It is commonly misspelled chalk-full, probably due to the close similarity in sound between chock and chalk especially in American pronunciation. Chock-full's origins are mysterious, though there are many theories that we won't go into here. There is … [Read more...]

Their, them, themselves, they (as singular pronouns)

Many English speakers believe that using the plural pronouns they, them, themselves, and their in gender-neutral singular constructions is incorrect. For example, these people would consider the them in "call a friend and ask them to come over" to be wrong because them by definition refers to … [Read more...]

Trochee

A trochee is a metrical foot consisting of a stressed syllable followed by an unstressed syllable---for example, the words poet, barren, public, Denver, Clinton, Teasdale. English is iambic in its natural rhythms, but poets have used trochaic lines to great effect. For example, each of the first … [Read more...]

Foolproof vs. full-proof

The adjective foolproof means infallible or, more literally, impervious to the incompetence of fools. Just as a bulletproof vest makes one invulnerable to bullets, a foolproof plan is designed to be invulnerable to fools. Foolproof is usually one word, without a hyphen (though the hyphenated … [Read more...]

Seldomly

Seldomly is an unnecessary variant of seldom. Seldom is already an adverb, so adding the adverbial -ly doesn't change its meaning. Using seldomly is not a serious error, however. Your spell check probably catches it, and most major dictionaries either don't list the word or list it as obsolete, yet … [Read more...]

Alas

The interjection alas expresses grief or regret resulting from something described. It's essentially an archaic way of saying, "Oh no!" so it should always be associated with something negative. For modern writers, it is difficult to use alas without creating an ironic or pretentious tone, but the … [Read more...]

Thusly

Thusly is a superfluous word. Because thus is an adverb in its own right, the adverbial -ly adds nothing. This doesn't mean that thusly is wrong, however, and there are contexts in which many English-speakers find it simply sounds better than thus, especially where it introduces quotes or … [Read more...]

Beckon call

The phrase at [one's] beckon call is an eggcorn derived from a mishearing of the at [one's] beck and call, which means freely available or ready to comply. The mistaken phrase is sort of understandable because someone who is at your beck and call is ready to be beckoned. Still, attentive readers are … [Read more...]

Catachresis

In poetry, catachresis is the misapplication of a word or phrase to create a (usually) deliberately strained figure or a mixed metaphor. In nonpoetic writing and speech catachresis is often problematic, but poets have used it to achieve great compression and rhetorical energy in both serious and … [Read more...]

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