In politics, the adjective radical means favoring revolutionary changes in the social structure. It's derived from the Latin radix, meaning root, and it relates to the desire to change society at the roots. The word has historically applied to the political left. While reactionaries (extreme right-wing) seek to preserve or bring back longstanding social structures, radicals (extreme left-wing) seek new structures and revolutionary reforms. There are still progressive and even centrist political … [Read more...]

Concave vs. convex

A concave surface curves inward. The word is easy to remember because a concave indentation in a wall makes a cave. A convex surface curves outward. Like many pairs of antonyms that are relatively rare and similar in sound, these two adjectives are easy to confuse.Concave and convex are also geometrical terms; a concave polygon has at least one angle greater than 180 degrees, and a convex polygon is made of angles each less than or equal to 180 degrees. Examples [O]ur resourceful … [Read more...]


The adjective especial is not just a misheard form of special. It's a word in its own right, meaning exceptional or of special importance. While special is synonymous with specific or particular, especial is synonymous with uncommon or exceptional. Think of especial in relation to its corresponding adverb, especially. Especially is more common, but especial can apply to qualities that something has especially; for example, an especially sleepy cat has an especial sleepiness.Special has taken … [Read more...]

Reactionary vs. reactive

The adjective reactionary is a political term meaning very conservative. It also functions as a noun describing someone who is politically reactionary. If you need an adjective meaning (1) tending to react or (2) characterized by reaction, go with reactive.Reactionary is the opposite of radical (though radical is often used to describe extremes of any political persuasion). It comes from post-Revolutionary France, where the réactionnaires sought restoration of the old, monarchical order. In … [Read more...]

Polemic vs. polemical

Polemic is a noun referring to a controversial argument hostilely refuting a specific belief or opinion. Polemical is an adjective meaning of or relating to controversy, refutation, or hostile argument. The words were variants of each other when they came to English from the French polémique (both around the early 17th century), but they have differentiated over time.Related -ic/-ical wordsA person who writes a polemic is a polemicist, though polemist appears occasionally. The words' … [Read more...]

Wilful vs. willful

Willful is the American spelling of the adjective meaning (1) done on purpose, or (2) intent on having one's own way. Wilful is the preferred spelling in all the main varieties of English from outside North America. Both spellings appear about equally often in Canadian publications.Wilful is the original spelling. Though willful has been around for many centuries, it did not become common until the 19th century. And, as the ngram below suggests, it became the preferred spelling in American … [Read more...]

Lonely vs. lonesome

A lonely person desires companionship. A lonesome person is lonely in a profound, long-lasting, philosophical, or especially forlorn way. The difference can be subtle where there is one, though, and there is obviously much common ground between the words. Lonely, the older of the two, is safer in serious or formal writing. Examples Legend by then had fructified Chapman ... into a mythic, apple-spreading American nomad of the lonesome frontier. [Wall Street Journal]In the rolling … [Read more...]

Quid pro quo

The Latin loanphrase quid pro quo means a reciprocal exchange. It translates literally to something for something. There are varying recommendations for pluralizing quid pro quo, but the simplest and most likely to stick (though it doesn't conform to Latin grammar) is quid pro quos. The phrase usually functions as a noun, but it also works adjectivally to characterize a reciprocal exchange.Quid pro quo is established in English, so there is no need to italicize it in normal … [Read more...]

Gorilla vs. guerrilla

A gorilla is a great ape native to the forests of equatorial Africa. A guerrilla (sometimes spelled guerilla) is a member of an irregular paramilitary unit operating in occupied territory. Guerrilla is often used figuratively to describe secret or backchannel projects---for example, guerrilla marketing or guerrilla filmmaking. Examples Guerrilla Osama bin Laden was the millionaire guerrilla fighter who became the world's most notorious terrorist. [Scottish Daily Record]FARC guerrillas … [Read more...]

Insofar (in so far)

The preposition and adverb insofar, meaning to such an extent, is one word in American and Canadian English. It's usually three words, in so far, in varieties of English from outside North America---though the one-word version is gaining ground everywere.In many cases, the formal-sounding insofar as could be either removed or replaced with a shorter alternative. Even the three-word as far as is shorter (in syllables) and usually more natural-sounding than insofar as. Examples For example, … [Read more...]

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