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Beg the question (usage)

Begging the question is a logical fallacy in which a conclusion is based on an assumption that is as much in need of proof as the premise. Because that phrase is out there, and because many people are unfamiliar with the fallacy, beg the question is widely used to mean raise the question. This use of beg the question is a common peeve among people who care about English usage, but the phenomenon is so widespread that we should probably just accept that begging the question has multiple … [Read more...]

Gender vs. sex

Gender was traditionally used mainly in grammar, language, and linguistics contexts to refer to the sex assigned to nouns (especially in non-English languages). For example, the gender of the French noun maison (house) is feminine, while the gender of livre (book) is masculine. Words of the same gender tend to have similar endings, and they affect the forms of some of the surrounding words. Sex, meanwhile, was traditionally the term for males or females viewed as a group. In recent decades, … [Read more...]

Turtle, tortoise, terrapin

Turtles are an order of reptiles characterized by their bony shells. A tortoise is a turtle that lives on land. There are some complicated technical issues surrounding these terms, and the usage habits vary among British, American, and Australian English. But as long as you're not a biologist, you're safe referring to any turtle that lives primarily on land as a tortoise. There are also sea turtles---obviously, turtles that live in the sea---and terrapins, a species of turtle native to … [Read more...]

Incredible vs. incredulous

Incredible means difficult to believe. Incredulous means unwilling or unable to believe. So something that is difficult to believe is incredible, and if you have trouble believing something, you are incredulous. Related Credible vs. credulous These adjectives were once variants of each other, but they diverged a few centuries ago, and now they are no longer considered interchangeable. They are still occasionally mixed up, but many readers will consider this an error. Examples What … [Read more...]

Ice tea vs. iced tea

The original phrase is iced tea, and this spelling is still more common in print. Yet for many English speakers, ice tea more closely resembles the pronunciation, and this spelling has gained significant ground in 21st-century writing. There might still be some English speakers who consider it incorrect, but it is common in informal writing and is even making inroads in edited publications. Other terms have undergone this shift. For example, ice cream and ice water were originally iced cream … [Read more...]

Financer vs. financier

A financer is someone who provides money for a particular undertaking. A financier is a person or organization whose business is providing, investing, or lending money. In other words, a financier makes a habit of financing, while a financer might do it only once or occasionally. Some dictionaries don't list financer---and your spell check might disapprove of it---but this is a mistake. As long as finance is a verb, and as long as some people who finance things aren't financiers, there will … [Read more...]

Schadenfreude

The German loanword schadenfreude is a recent addition to the English language, but its meaning is so simple and its concept so universal that it's probably going to stay. Plus, there is no corresponding English word. Simply defined, schadenfreude is pleasure derived from others' misfortune. It is most often used in reference to the misfortunes of someone who is privileged or has been exceptionally fortunate in the past, but it doesn't have to be used this way. Like most newly arrived … [Read more...]

But vs. yet

As conjunctions, but and yet are interchangeable. One is often substituted for the other to avoid repetition, as in this sentence: Many, many people here share these thoughts, yet nobody can say anything. But I'm saying something. [Chatoyant Crumbs] This has the same meaning as, Many, many people here share these thoughts, [but] nobody can say anything. [Yet] I'm saying something. Using one or the other in both spots would also create the same meaning, but it might sound repetitive. As … [Read more...]

Right-of-way

Right-of-way, referring to the right for one person or vehicle to pass before another, is usually hyphenated in North American writing, but leaving it unhyphenated is not a serious mistake. Outside North America, it tends to go unhyphenated. … [Read more...]

Et cetera (etc.)

Et cetera, usually abbreviated etc., comes from the Latin et, meaning and, and cetera, meaning the rest. So et cetera literally means and the rest. Overuse  Etc. is best reserved for times when (a) there is no question of what's being omitted, or (b) when listing every item in a large group would be unnecessary. In this example, there's no mystery about what etc. indicates: All non-human primates---monkeys, gorillas, chimpanzees, etc.---exhibit some form of tool use. And in this example, the … [Read more...]

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