Just deserts vs. just desserts

The expression meaning that which is deserved was originally just deserts. The phrase is the last refuge of an obsolete meaning of desert---namely, something that is deserved or merited. But because most modern English speakers are unfamiliar with that old sense of desert, the phrase is often understandably written just desserts. Using just desserts is not a serious error, and it is much more common than just deserts in 21st-century texts. Some people still consider it wrong, however. Whether … [Read more...]

Dual vs. duel

The adjective dual means (1) composed of two usually like or complementary parts, (2) double, or (3) having a double character or purpose. A duel is (1) a prearranged combat between two people, or (2) a struggle for domination between two individuals, groups, or ideas. The word also works as a verb, meaning to have a duel. These homophones have different roots. Dual comes from the Latin duo (which has Indo-European roots), meaning two, while duel comes from the Medieval Latin duellum, … [Read more...]

As far as

The common phrase as far as only makes logical sense if followed by a complementary phrase such as I know, that goes, or that's concerned. When the complementary phrase is omitted, as far as becomes illogical. Still, its use without the complementary phrase is common, so we might consider it idiomatic. For example, as far as is logically questionable in these sentences: As far as other appearances, Democratic State Treasurer candidate Robin Kelly and Democratic Cook County Board President … [Read more...]

Du jour

The French loan phrase du jour, meaning literally of the day, came to English in the 1960s when restaurants started using it to highlight their daily specials (their plats du jour). More recently, it has expanded from its original sense, and it now sometimes means recent, current, or trendy. But unlike its adjectival synonyms, du jour follows the French grammar by coming after the noun it modifies. For example, you might call a trendy hat the hat du jour, not the du jour hat. Because du … [Read more...]

Endear

In its traditional sense, endear means to make dear, with its direct object making itself dear to its indirect object. For example, I might endear myself (direct object) to you (indirect object) with this post if you find it useful, or you might endear yourself (direct object) to me (indirect object) by posting a comment expressing your thanks. If we give most credence to the standard dictionary definition---which isn't always the best approach, but we'll do so here for the sake of … [Read more...]

Eminent vs. immanent vs. imminent

Someone or something that is eminent is of high rank, noteworthy, distinguished, or prominent. An accomplished world leader and a respected intellectual, for instance, are eminent. Something that is imminent is (1) very near or (2) impending. For example, when the weather forecast calls for a 100% chance of thunderstorms, we might say that storms are imminent.  Something that is immanent exists within or is inherent to something else. The word is often used in reference to spiritual or … [Read more...]

Ergo

The conjunction ergo is similar in meaning to therefore and hence. Although it is widely regarded as archaic, it is not as rare as some archaisms. It appears especially often in recent sportswriting, a trend we can't explain. Examples Here are two examples of ergo in older texts: This priest-book par excellence opens, as is fitting, with the great inner difficulty of the priest: he faces only one great danger; ergo, "God" faces only one great danger. [H.L. Mencken, translation (1923) of The … [Read more...]

While away vs. wile away

The phrase meaning to pass time idly is while away. It is older and more logical than wile away. But because the second phrase occurs so frequently, it is now included in many dictionaries and is rarely considered incorrect. The OED has instances of while away going back to the early 18th century. The phrase employs a now archaic sense of while---namely, to fill up the time. Today, while is used only as a noun or conjunction (except in while away), and because 21st-century English speakers … [Read more...]

Stationary vs. stationery

Stationary, with an a, is an adjective only. It means not moving or not capable of being moved. Stationery, with an e, is a noun only. It refers to writing paper and envelopes. In North America, it's usually used in reference to paper and materials for writing letters. Outside North America, it's used more broadly. Though stationary and stationery are spelled almost alike, they have different origins. Stationary comes from the Latin stationarius, meaning belonging to a military station, while … [Read more...]

Entomology vs. etymology

Etymology is the study of the origins and development of words. By extension, it's sometimes used to refer to the origins of a word. Entomology is the study of insects. If it helps, think of the word as antomology, but with an e instead of an a. Examples "Indian summer" is of American etymology and best describes the US climate. [Irish Times] Baylor has entomology classes for studying insects. [Baylor Lariat] The etymology of the Glaswegian word "bevvy" is not difficult to unravel. [The … [Read more...]

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