First floor

In the U.K., Ireland, and South Africa, the first floor of a building is the floor above the ground-level floor. One walks up one flight of stairs to get there. In the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, the first floor is the ground-level floor. One doesn't have to walk up stairs to get there. The floor above the ground-level floor is the second floor. … [Read more...]

Photo shoot vs. photoshoot

Photoshoot is a compound word in the making, but it is not yet fully accepted. For as long as the words photo and shoot have been commonly used together---which is only a couple of decades---the two-word form, photo shoot, has always been the more common by a large margin and remains so today. The hyphenated form, photo-shoot, began to catch on fairly early, but now that form is surpassed by photoshoot, which, as of 2013, is fast gaining ground. In current searches of news publishers with … [Read more...]

Faun vs. fawn

A faun is a rural god taking the form of a man with goat ears, horns, tail, and legs. The word comes form Latin, and the word and the deity are thought to descend from the Greek Pan, also a goatlike half-human god. In early English use, the word was sometimes spelled fawn, but the modern spelling has been settled for many centuries. Fawn is the term for the young of several animal species, including deer. The word also works as a verb meaning to flatter or show obsequious attention (usually … [Read more...]

Aural vs. oral

Oral things have to do with the mouth. For example, oral surgery involves surgery done in the mouth, and oral arguments are ones made by mouth (i.e., spoken instead of written). Aural has two main definitions: (1) of or relating to the ear and hearing, and (2) of or relating to the aura. As the noun aura is loosely defined and is mainly confined to a few esoteric subjects, the first sense is the more common one. Aural in this sense is synonymous with auditory. … [Read more...]

Buses vs. busses

In 21st-century English, buses is the preferred plural of the noun bus. Busses appears occasionally, and dictionaries list it as a secondary spelling, but it’s been out of favor for over a century. This is true in all main varieties of English. After bus emerged in the 19th century as an abbreviation of omnibus, buses and busses (the logical plural of buss, an early alternative spelling of bus) vied for dominance for several decades. By the early 20th century, though, buses was the clear … [Read more...]


To whinge is to complain, especially in a fretful and persistent way. The word is roughly synonymous with whine, grouse, and gripe, and it often connotes annoyance with the complaining person or a sense that the complaining is unreasonable. The word is almost nonexistent in American and Canadian English. While we find hundreds of instances of whinge used in U.K., Irish, and Australian news publications over the last few months, North American publications contain only a few scattered … [Read more...]

Sanitise vs sanitize

For the verb meaning to make sanitary, sanitize is the usual spelling in the U.S. and Canada, and sanitise is preferred everywhere else. The spelling difference extends to most derivatives, including sanitized/sanitised, sanitizing/sanitising, and sanitizer/sanitiser. Sanitize is the original spelling, and until recently it prevailed throughout the English-speaking world. Over the past couple of decades, however, many British writers and publishers have begun using sanitise, and the spelling … [Read more...]

Biannual vs. biennial

Something that is biannual occurs twice every year. Something that is biennial (1) occurs once every two years, or (2) exists or last for two years. … [Read more...]

Overdo vs. overdue

To overdo something is to do it to excess. For example, if you overdo the eating of ice cream, you might get a stomachache. The word is only a verb. Overdue is only an adjective. It means undelivered or unpaid when due. If you fail to turn in an assignment at the deadline, it becomes overdue.  … [Read more...]

Wack vs. whack

The word meaning very bad or of dubious quality is wack, with no h. Your spell check might disapprove of wack, but the word has been in English at least a quarter of a century, and it has another sense---an eccentric or crazy person---that is even older, so spell check is wrong. In the newer sense, the word arose out of U.S. hip-hop culture, probably around 1980. More specific origins have not been definitively established. It could descend from the older adjective wacky, which means … [Read more...]

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