The die is cast

To say the die is cast is to suggest that a process is past the point of return. In the metaphorical phrase, die refers to a numbered cube used in gaming (the singular of dice), and cast means thrown. The phrase is attributed to Julius Caesar, who reportedly said it (in Latin) as he crossed the Rubicon river with one of his legions to start the civil war that would bring him to power. The Rubicon was the northern border of the Roman republic, and Caesar was not in a position to legally … [Read more...]

Childcare, child care, child-care

In American English, child care is two words when it functions as a noun phrase. It’s usually hyphenated---child-care---when it functions as an adjective. For example, we might write, “I need to find child care, but child-care costs are expensive.” But American writers sometimes use the one-word form---childcare---as the adjective. In British English, childcare is almost always a single, unhyphenated word, even when it functions as a noun. So the same sentence would be, “I need to find … [Read more...]

Binded vs. bound

The past tense and past participle of the verb bind is bound, but many writers make an exception when talking about papers and documents in binders---e.g., "He entered with his binded notes in hand." Bindered also works for this purpose. … [Read more...]

Ages (hyphenation)

A 12-year-old child is 12 years old. That is, when the adjectival phrase (12-year-old) comes before the noun it modifies (child), it is hyphenated, and it is unhyphenated when it comes after the noun it modifies. This is the standard practice for phrasal adjectives of all kinds, not just those relating to age. For example, the phrasal adjective is hyphenated in the clause he has a larger-than-life personality, but not in his personality is larger than life. Similar age phrases are also … [Read more...]

Lambast vs. lambaste

For the verb meaning (1) to beat or (2) to scold or berate, lambaste is the preferred spelling in American and Canadian English, while lambast is preferred in varieties of English from outside North America. While the exact derivation of the word is not definitively known, the OED posits that it’s a combination of lam and baste, both of which bear the sense (now archaic for both words) to beat soundly. Other sources agree. And lambaste is the older form. In historical Google Books searches, … [Read more...]

Set up vs. setup

Setup is one word when it is a noun (e.g., "it was a setup!") or an adjective (e.g., "follow the setup instructions"). It is two words---set up---when it functions as a verb (e.g., "I'm going to set up the computer"). Some writers and publishes use set-up, with a hyphen, instead of setup. In any case, the one-word form and the hyphenated form do not function as verbs. … [Read more...]

Sear vs. seer vs. sere

Sear is primarily a verb meaning to burn with a hot instrument. A seer is (1) one that sees, or (2) someone who claims to have powers of foresight or who claims to see supernatural things invisible to others. Sere is primarily an adjective maning withered or dried up. … [Read more...]


In English, milieu refers to a social environment, or sometimes more generally to any environment or location. It’s often used to refer to social environments that are remote to the speaker and her presumed readers. The social worlds of artists and the wealthy, for instance, are often referred to as milieus, as are social worlds of bygone eras. But the word doesn’t necessarily bear these connotations, and it’s sometimes used in reference to more ordinary, accessible environments. Milieu came … [Read more...]

Take over vs. takeover

Take over is a phrasal verb (e.g., "The conqueror wants to take over the country to the east.") Takeover is a noun (e.g., "The takeover of the country was peaceful.") and sometimes an adjective. The one-word form does not function as a verb. Take over is one of countless phrasal verbs that have corresponding one-word forms that function as nouns and adjectives. The one-word forms never catch on as verbs in edited, published writing, but they are commonly treated as verbs in informal contexts … [Read more...]

Buffer vs. buffet

To buffet is (1) to hit or beat repeatedly, or (2) to beat back. The participial adjective buffeted is often used figuratively to describe something that is embattled or facing many adverse forces. To buffer is (1) to lessen or absorb the shock of an impact, or (2) to act as an intermediary or a moderating force between two or more opposed things. Examples Stocks were buffered from deeper losses by decent weekly jobs data in the U.S. and results from retailers. [MarketWatch] Large amounts … [Read more...]

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