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Accell

Accell (or accel) is not a dictionary-recognized word. The word meaning to speed up is accelerate. The word meaning to get ahead is excel. … [Read more...]

Dwelled vs. dwelt

In American English, the past tense and past participle of dwell is usually dwelled. In varieties of English from outside North America, dwelt is the preferred form. Both are common in Canadian English. Both forms are many centuries old, but dwelt has been more common for at least three centuries. The American preference for dwelled is a new development. A Google Ngram charting the words' use in 20th-century American books and magazines shows dwelt still prevailing at the end of the century, … [Read more...]

Tour de force

Tour de force is French for feat of strength. In English, we use it to describe a particularly impressive display of skill and effort. The phrase came to English in the early 19th century, and it has become increasingly common ever since. Today, we use it not only as a noun phrase but also as a phrasal adjective. There is no reason to hyphenate tour de force when it's a noun phrase (e.g., her performance was a tour de force), but hyphenating it makes sense when it's a phrasal adjective (she … [Read more...]

Botanic vs. botanical

For the adjective meaning of or relating to botany or the cultivation of plants, botanic and botanical are both acceptable, and there is no difference between them, but botanical is more common in 21st-century English. Botanic was more common up to the 20th century but has gradually faded out of use. Today it is preserved mainly in the names of botanical institutions founded over a century ago. Related -ic/-ical words Some –ic/-ical word pairs that were originally variants of each other … [Read more...]

On tenterhooks

To be on tenterhooks (not tenderhooks) is to be nervously waiting to find out what is going to happen in a tense or perilous situation. Literally, a tenter is a wooden frame used to hang newly woven woolen cloth in order to prevent it from shrinking as it dries. The tenterhooks, obviously, are the hooks on the tenter used to hold the cloth in place. The figurative sense, which developed in the late 18th or early 19th century, comes from the fact that cloth hung on tenterhooks is tense and … [Read more...]

Pickup vs. pick up (vs. pick-up)

Pickup is one word when it functions as a noun or an adjective. It's two words, pick up, when functioning as a verb. For example, you might drive your pickup to pick up your friend from a pickup football game, and congested traffic might make you late for the pickup. Pick up is just one of hundreds of phrasal verbs that have one-word noun/adjective counterparts. For a few other examples, see runaway and run away, workout and work out, and payback and pay back. In informal use, the one-word … [Read more...]

Lustful vs. lusty

Lustful is the adjective corresponding to lust in the sense related to sexual craving, so it means full of sexual craving. But sometimes lustful means just full of craving, without necessarily involving sexual feelings. Dictionaries list lusty as a variant of lustful, but its primary definition in modern English is full of vigor or having robust health. Both adjectives have long histories involving many now obsolete definitions. Lust, along with lustful, is from Old English, where lust meant … [Read more...]

Out of pocket

The phrase out of pocket has at least three definitions: It’s a phrasal adjective or adverbial phrase meaning paid in cash or paid without expectation of reimbursement. It means out of reach, especially while shirking one’s official duties. It means out of or deprived of money. This sense is primarily British. The origin of the first sense (and the closely related third sense) is obvious. Cash is usually kept in the pocket, so to pay out of pocket is to pay in cash. The second sense … [Read more...]

Flautist vs. flutist

For the noun denoting a person who plays the flute, Americans usually use flutist. In varieties of English from outside North America, flautist is more common. The web-searchable Canadian-English sample size is too small to be useful, but both words are used to some degree by Canadian writers. Flutist, from the French flûtiste, is by far the older word in English, and it is not American in origin. The OED lists an example from 1603, though the word remained rare in any form until the early … [Read more...]

Strived, striven, strove

Strived and strove both work as the past tense of strive. Both forms are many centuries old, and both appear regularly throughout the English-speaking world, so you’re safe using the one that sounds best to you. The past participle is more complicated. Striven is the traditional form, but strived has gained ground and is now more common. So, for example, I have striven five years is the traditional construction, but I have strived five years is acceptable to modern English speakers. … [Read more...]

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