Pajamas vs. pyjamas

Pajamas and pyjamas both refer to loose-fitting clothes worn for sleep. Pajamas is the preferred spelling in American English, while pyjamas is preferred in the main varieties of English from outside North America. Canadian usage in this century is inconsistent, though pyjamas appears to have the edge. Examples Outside the U.S. Munshaw-Luhar says the shops also stock sherwani suits and kurta pyjamas for men and expensive wedding outfits. [Sydney Morning Herald] What I always do is to … [Read more...]


To be nonplussed is to be (1) at a loss of what to think, or (2) bewildered. These are the traditional definitions, anyway. The word comes from the old but now little-used noun nonplus, which refers to a state in which nothing more can be said or done, so to be nonplussed is essentially to be at a standstill or an impasse. Regardless of the traditional definitions, the word is very often used as a synonym of unimpressed, indifferent, or unfazed---for example: I was nonplussed by the curry … [Read more...]

Octopi vs. octopuses

Octopi, the supposed plural of octopus, is a favorite among fans of quirky words, but it has no etymological basis. The form was created by English speakers out of a mistaken belief that octopus is Latin and hence pluralized with an -i ending. But octopus comes from ancient Greek, where its plural is octopodes, and though it came to English via scientific Latin---one of the late varieties of Latin that kept the language alive long after it had died out as a first language---it was never a native … [Read more...]

Verses vs. versus

Verses is the plural of the noun verse (or the present participle of the rare verb sense of verse). Versus (abbreviated vs. or v.) is a preposition meaning against or in contrast to. Examples Snippets from Leviticus and other Bible verses form the foundation of their anti-gay platform. [Daily Mail] The Australian currency weakened for a second day versus the yen. [Sydney Morning Herald] For generations, schoolchildren from all over China have grown up learning verses that were inspired … [Read more...]

Inclement vs. inclimate

The weather-related adjective meaning stormy or tempestuous is inclement. It is the appropriate word in the phrase inclement weather, which means stormy weather. The word is often misspelled inclimate (which would also be pronounced a little differently), but this illogical form is not yet common enough to have received the recognition of dictionaries (at least the dozen or so we checked), and it is not found in edited writing. The prefix in- is one of several prefixes we attach to adjectives … [Read more...]

Qualitative, quantitative

Because the adjectives qualitative and quantitative are antonyms, they're often used in contrast with each other, and their close association and similarity in sound makes them easily confused. The distinction is simple: quantitative relates to numbers and amounts, while qualitative relates to nonnumeric characteristics and properties. Both qualitative and quantitative are preferred over their shorter alternatives, qualitive and quantitive. Examples Quantitative And this week, after a … [Read more...]

Lended vs. lent

The verb lend is traditionally inflected lent in the past tense and as a past participle. Lended appears from time to time, but nowhere in the English-speaking world is it common. Examples A few instances of lended used in place of lent are easily found---for example: It was a regular season match-up that lended itself to a postseason atmosphere. [Walton Tribune] The Salvation Army, the Red Cross, Home Depot and too many other organizations to name lended a hand with the cleanup. [Gwinnett … [Read more...]

One-time vs. onetime

In 21st-century North America usage, one-time, with a hyphen, means occurring only once. For instance, a payment you have to make only once is a one-time payment. Onetime, without a hyphen, is synonymous with former. For example, George W. Bush is the onetime president of the United States. You will not see the one-time/onetime distinction noted in dictionaries because it is a new development, not widely borne out until this century. Outside North America, the hyphenated one-time is commonly … [Read more...]

Paralyse vs. paralyze


Paralyse and paralyze are different spellings of the same word. Paralyze is preferred in the U.S. and Canada, while paralyse is preferred outside North America. The spelling difference extends to derivative words such as paralysed/paralyzed and paralysing/paralyzing, but not to paralysis, which has two s's everywhere. Both spellings are old, and it was not until the middle 19th century that English speakers on both sides of the Atlantic settled on their respective spellings (though Americans … [Read more...]


The misuse of ironic is a common peeve among careful users of English. Some of the complaints are overblown, but ironic has undoubtedly been overextended. The one definition of ironic of which everyone approves is using words to express the opposite of their literal meaning. Irony is similar to sarcasm, but the goal of sarcasm is to mock, while irony is usually used to make subtler points. The following writers use ironic in its one unassailable sense: And yes, I do say 'LOL' out loud. In … [Read more...]

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