De rigueur

The loanword de rigueur, meaning socially obligatory, proper, or required by custom, functions as an adjective in English. It comes from French, where it means, literally, of rigor and, less literally, according to strictness. De rigueur is also a common expression in that language, where it means … [Read more...]

Divorcée, divorcé, divorcee

A divorcée is a woman who has divorced, and a divorcé is a man who has divorced. The words come directly from French, which unlike English uses masculine and feminine forms for most nouns denoting people. In French, divorcé is the past participle of the verb divorcer. When the past participle is … [Read more...]


The word myriad works as both (1) an adjective meaning innumerable, and (2) a noun referring to an innumerable quantity of something. Using it as an adjective is usually more concise.  For instance, in these sentences the words a and of could be removed from a myriad of with no loss of … [Read more...]

Port vs. starboard

Port and starboard are nautical terms with origins in Old English. Their meanings are simple: to an observer standing on a boat and facing the front of the craft, port is the left side of the boat, and starboard is the right. If it helps, just remember that port and left are both four-letter words … [Read more...]


The noun deconstruction originally referred to a postmodern philosophy and literary-criticism movement that seeks to undo conventional assumptions underlying the meanings of texts. Deconstruction as a synonym of dismantlement or demolition began as a careless misappropriation of the literary term, … [Read more...]

Mischievous vs. mischievious

Mischievous is the standard spelling of the adjective meaning causing mischief. Mischievious is a misspelling, but it is so common that it may someday gain acceptance. For now, it doesn't regularly appear in edited writing, and dictionaries and spell check have yet to accept it, for what that's … [Read more...]


The noun dearth, meaning a scarce supply, is synonymous with shortage and scarcity. A time of dearth is one in which things are dear---dear being the root of dearth---so there are things, just not many or much of them. So, at least traditionally, dearth does not mean a complete lack or absence. For … [Read more...]

Crevasse vs. crevice

Crevices are small, usually narrow cracks or gaps in a surface. Think of the word as a synonym of split, crack, rent, and cranny. A crevasse is a large fissure, especially in a glacier. The word's synonyms include abyss and chasm. Crevice and crevasse are not actually homophones---as crevice is … [Read more...]

Run-on sentences

A run-on sentence is not simply a sentence that is too long. Rather, it is a sentence in which two or more independent clauses are fused together without the proper punctuation or conjunctions needed to hold them together in a grammatically correct way. There are many types of run-ons. We'll cover … [Read more...]

Dove vs. dived


Dived is the traditional past tense and past participle of the verb dive. But the newer dove, which probably came about by analogy with similar words like drove and wove, has been in the language approximately two centuries and is now standard in American and Canadian English. Outside North America, … [Read more...]

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