Aid vs. aide

An aide is an assistant or helper. The word always refers to a person. Aid is a noun referring to (1) assistance, or (2) something that assists (e.g., a hearing aid or a visual aid), and it's also a verb meaning to assist. Some dictionaries list aid as a variant of aide, but the words are generally … [Read more...]

Memento mori

A memento mori is something, especially an object, that serves as a reminder of mortality. Memento mori tend to be ominous or frightening items; for example, skulls and representations of skulls have traditionally served as memento mori. But the term can also denote less ominous things, such as a … [Read more...]

Affective vs. effective

Affective is an adjective meaning influenced by emotions or arousing emotions. It is roughly synonymous with emotional. It's used mainly in psychology, where affective disorders are conditions characterized by emotional problems or mood disturbances, though it does appear occasionally outside … [Read more...]

Chafe vs. chaff

To chafe is to irritate by rubbing. For example, a poorly made shoe might chafe your ankle. The word is often metaphorical; for instance, you might be chafed by a bothersome coworker who talks too much. Also, chafe sometimes becomes intransitive, taking the preposition at (or sometimes under), so … [Read more...]

Idle, idol, idyll

An idol is an object of worship. The word functions only as a noun. Idle has several definitions, including (1) inactive, (2) to pass time without doing work, (3) to run (a motor vehicle) while out of gear or not in motion, (4) to make inactive, and (5) a state of idling. It's usually an adjective, … [Read more...]

Enrol vs. enroll

The verb meaning to sign up or to register is spelled enroll in the U.S. Enrol, with one l, is the preferred spelling outside North America. The more American spelling is now preferred in Canadian news publications, but enrol was traditionally more common and still appears in many contexts. The … [Read more...]


Multitask works as both an adjective and a verb. Its adjectival sense is the original, arising in the early 1960s to describe computing systems in which multiple processes execute simultaneously. The verb sense---to perform multiple tasks at once---came about soon thereafter, as did the participial … [Read more...]


A svengali is a person who controls another’s mind or has the ability to control others, usually with sinister intent. In the 1891 gothic-horror novel Trilby, by George du Maurier, Svengali is a hypnotist who transforms the title character into a famous singer. The book was popular in its time, so … [Read more...]

Teeth vs. teethe

Teeth is the plural of tooth. It's only a noun. Teethe, with that third e, is a verb meaning to grow teeth. It's inflected teething, teethed, and teethes. Teethe is often used metaphorically to mean to pass through early stages of development. This sense is especially common in phrases such as … [Read more...]

Touch and go

Situations that are touch and go are risky or precarious, have a significant chance of failure, and often require great effort or skill from those involved in order to avoid disaster. For instance, emergency medical situations in which positive outcomes are not assured are often described as touch … [Read more...]

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