Contemptible vs. contemptuous

A person who feels contempt toward something else is contemptuous toward that thing. Something deserving of contempt is contemptible. If you regard something as inferior, base, or worthy of scorn, you are contemptuous toward that contemptible thing. Contemptuous is synonymous with disrespectful, arrogant, and condescending, while contemptible is synonymous with despicable and worthless. Contemptible is usually overtly negative, while contemptuous is often more subtly negative, implying that … [Read more...]

Systematic vs. systemic

The adjective systematic means (1) carried out using step-by-step procedures, or (2) of, characterized, or constituting a system. It typically describes carefully planned processes that unfold gradually. Systemic, which is narrower in definition, means systemwide or deeply engrained in the system. It usually describes habits or processes that are difficult to reverse because they are built into a system. There is some gray area between the words. When there is doubt, it's usually safer to go … [Read more...]

Point in time

The common phrase point in time could usually be shortened to just point or time. If neither of those words sounds right, there are other alternatives such as moment, second, and instant, which get across that we are talking about time. Point in time is sometimes useful, though. It may indicate that point refers to time instead of space---though context usually fills in the blank. And when it comes to point in time (and similarly with point in space), one can bypass this issue by removing … [Read more...]

Up to date

The common phrase up to date is hyphenated when it precedes the noun it modifies---for example: Having an up-to-date inventory of the contents of your home can help speed the payment of an insurance claim. [Chicago Tribune] The highest-rated services have up-to-date guides that explain the options and filter tools to help identify appropriate funds. [Financial Times] When the phrase functions as a predicate adjective coming after what it modifies, it is not hyphenated---for example: I take … [Read more...]


A suffix is a letter or group of letters affixed to the end of a word to create a different word. Some suffixes are single letters; for example, in the word floors, -s is a suffix indicating that the noun, floor, is plural. Others are multiple letters; for instance, in the word brightest, the suffix -est makes the adjective, bright, superlative. There are many ways to categorize suffixes, but the most common makes a distinction between inflectional suffixes and derivational ones. An … [Read more...]

Abandon vs. abandonment

As a noun, abandon refers to (1) unbounded enthusiasm, or (2) a complete surrender of inhibitions. It often appears in the phrases reckless abandon and wild abandon. Though abandon is a noun in those senses, it is confined to those uses, and the word doesn't work in place of abandonment in the senses the state of being abandoned and the act of abandoning. Examples Abandon The debt limit has been treated with abandon by Republican and Democratic presidents and Congresses. [Los Angeles … [Read more...]

Goes without saying

It's easy to be hard on goes without saying---if something goes without saying, why say it?---but the phrase sometimes works well as a wordy way of saying obviously, and it can be useful for emphasis or transition. Of course, when tempted to say something goes without saying, you might want to examine whether you need to say that thing. But if you do need to say that thing and goes without saying seems like a pretty good transitional phrase, don't let its literal meaning stop you. While goes … [Read more...]

Teetotaler, teetotaller

The noun teetotaler---reportedly coined in 1833 by an English abstinence advocate---means one who abstains completely from alcohol beverages. The single-l spelling, teetotaler, is preferred in American English. Teetotaller, with two l's, is the usual form in the main varieties of English used outside the U.S.. Teetotal is the corresponding verb, and teetotalism (in both American and British English) is the practice of abstaining from alcohol. Examples U.S. Trump, known as much for his … [Read more...]

Some odd

The idiom some odd appears in two main uses: (1) following a number and meaning approximately or a little more than (e.g., "there were 50-some-odd people at the banquet"); and (2) in the phrase some odd reason, which means an unknown reason. In both uses, some odd is casual and might be considered out of place in formal contexts. The first one, especially, should be avoided when you need to sound authoritative, as it may signal that you haven't done enough research to provide an exact … [Read more...]

Lead vs. lede

Long ago the noun lede was an alternative spelling of lead, but now lede is mainly journalism jargon for the introductory portion of a news story---or what might be called the lead portion of the news story. Strictly speaking, the lede is the first sentence or short portion of an article that gives the gist of the story and contains the most important points readers need to know. For example, the below lede, from a New York Times story, gives the main piece of news, allowing readers who are not … [Read more...]

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