Lie or lye


Lye is a harsh chemical used in making soap or washing solutions. The term was vastly more common in the 1800s (see ngram below) because people made their own lye at home. The process includes soaking hardwood ashes for days in water. The water becomes lye, which was then used to make soap. When it became more cost-effective to buy bars of soap in a store, the use of the word lye decreased.   Unfortunately, a common way to hear the word lye is in relation to a crime where someone … [Read more...]


In the dictionary, a diktat is defined as an order that is harsh and unilaterally imposed on a people without their permission. It is usually used with the connotation of being issued to a defeated country or people. A dictate is simply a command or order, without the necessity of being harsh. The most common place to hear or read the word diktat is India, where it is used for orders which come from military or faith leaders. It still carries its pejorative … [Read more...]


Cleave is a verb with two very distinct definitions. In one sense it can mean to break two things apart, split one item into two pieces, or push something apart with great force. On the other hand, to cleave is to stick with something very closely, like a belief or a person. These two opposing definitions also have differing verb forms. To adhere to something in the past tense is to cleaved, clove, and clave, though the latter two are rare and slightly archaic. To break something into two in … [Read more...]


As a verb alight means for a flying insect or animal to land or perch after flying. This definition can extend to anything descending upon or landing on something. It can also mean for a person to depart or exit a mode of transportation. Archaically alight meant to acquire or meet something or someone by chance, its noun form was alightment. As an adjective, alight means to be on fire or shining with lights.  The on fire definition is predominantly used in the United Kingdom, though it can be … [Read more...]

Interview with Stan Carey

Stan Carey

Grammarist is proud to feature an interview with Stan Carey, the Irishguistarian-er. Please introduce yourself and provide some background information. I’m Stan Carey, a freelance writer and editor from Ireland. I trained as a scientist, thought about becoming a musician, then got hooked on language. I write about it at Sentence first, Macmillan Dictionary Blog, and elsewhere. Most of my work is editing and proofreading reports, books, academic and business texts, advertising copy, and so … [Read more...]

Site vs cite

A site is a location, either used for a specific activity, construction, or important event. It also has come to mean a website. Cite is a verb which means to reference another's work, either by quotation or general idea. To cite someone, or to issue a citation, is to require them to appear in a court of law.  The verb forms include citing, cited, and cites. Cite has the derivatives of citation and citable. Site's other homonym sight is discussed here. Examples Organisers of the town’s … [Read more...]


A redoubt is a small area that gives protection to soldiers while under attack. The word can also be used for a figuratively safe place for anyone under attack. It is not a verb. A related word is redan. Also a military defense location, it differs from a redoubt in that a redan has an opening for retreat, whereas the redoubt is completely enclosed. History The word redoubt has been in use since the 1600s. It comes from the French word redoute. As military techniques have advanced to … [Read more...]

Slayed or slew


To slay something can mean to kill it or to amuse it. The past tense of the first meaning is slew, while the past tense of the second meaning is slayed. The popularity of the word slayed has grown considerable in the last century, and my guess would be that the colloquially usage of the word will make it into the dictionaries eventually.   Also, keep in mind that slew has other meanings such as, a sudden change in direction. A slew of things is a large amount. Examples "She … [Read more...]


Skulduggery is general underhanded behavior or trickery, usually secret or devious. The plural form is skulduggeries, though the word is rarely used in this way since it means behavior in a general sense to begin with. It can be spelled skullduggery, though the one l spelling is slightly more common. More importantly the one l spelling is listed first in the dictionary. The word seems to be a variant of a Scottish word sculduddery which meant lewd or obscene behavior. The origin … [Read more...]

Sizable or sizeable


Sizable means a significant amount of something. Outside of North America it is spelled sizeable. The spelling change extends to the adverb form sizably and sizeably. Be careful to use the correct form (i.e., do not use the adverb form when the adjective form is required.) Interestingly, the word peaked in popularity in the 1970s and since has dropped off. This is true of both spellings. Examples There's a sizable pool of mainstream Republicans here waiting to be courted, and in a … [Read more...]

About Grammarist
Contact | Privacy policy | Home
© Copyright 2009-2014 Grammarist