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Center vs. centre

There is no difference in meaning between center and centre. Center is the preferred spelling in American English, and centre is preferred in varieties of English from outside the U.S. Some people do make distinctions between the words. For instance, some prefer to treat center as the word for a place or institution and centre as the word for the middle point of something. But while these preferences may be taught in some schools and are perhaps common among careful English speakers in … [Read more...]

Racket vs. racquet

Racket is the usual spelling of the word for the paddle-like device used in net games such as tennis. Racquet is an alternative form---it was originally a misspelling of the French word, and has appeared to varying degrees since entering English in the 19th century---now mainly confined to certain contexts, appearing especially in names (e.g., West River Health & Racquet Club) and in reference to the sports of squash and racquetball. In tennis, racket is the preferred spelling. This is the … [Read more...]

Argumentative vs. argumentive

Argumentative, which derives from argumentation, is the standard form of the adjective meaning (1) quarrelsome or given to argument, or (2) concerned with or relating to argumentation. The shorter argumentive appears occasionally, but it has never been an accepted form. Examples The man became argumentative and refused to get out of the roadway and return to his home. [Bay Net] Others embraced the new pamphlet format to weigh in on the merits of Luther's arguments, both for and against, … [Read more...]

Flack vs. flak

A flack is a person---especially a press agent or publicist---who talks up his or her employer and deflects criticism. Flak (usually a mass noun) refers to (1) antiaircraft artillery, and (2) excessive or abusive criticism (the second definition derives metaphorically from the first). Examples RIM has taken a lot of flak from CNET and others for its decision to pair the BlackBerry PlayBook tablet with a BlackBerry smartphone. [CNET] He promptly became a political flack. [Gawker] Brown … [Read more...]

Web site vs. website

A few editorially conservative publications still use the two-word Web site, but this relic of the 1990s has fallen out of favor throughout the English-speaking world. The one-word, uncapitalized website now prevails by an overwhelming margin. Exceptions are easily found, however, especially in American sources, where Web site (or web site, without the capital w) appears about once for every six instances of website. This is likely due to the influence of the New York Times, which is … [Read more...]

Offence vs. offense

Other than how they are spelled and where they are used, there is no difference between offence and offense. Offense is the preferred spelling in the United States, and offence prevails in all the main varieties of English from outside the U.S. The American spelling gained steam through the 19th century, after being promoted in Noah Webster's 1831 dictionary and all later editions, but didn't become the more common form in the U.S. until the early 20th century. The spelling was not invented … [Read more...]

Summons and summonses

Summons is a singular noun meaning a call by an authority to appear or to do something. It's most often used in legal contexts for notice summoning a defendant or witness to appear in court. Despite the s at the end, summons functions like any other singular noun---for example: Evansville police said they will see that a court summons is issued for a man who they say was too drunk to go to jail early Sunday. [Evansville Courier & Press] Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi will defy a … [Read more...]

Literally vs. figuratively

In its usual sense, literally means exactly, in a strict sense, or to the letter. For example, when someone says, "I am literally foaming at the mouth," this literally means real foam is coming out of his or her mouth. Figuratively means in a metaphorical sense---that is, not in a real sense but in a way that is expressed through figures of speech. So when someone says, "I am figuratively foaming at the mouth," we can infer that he or she is using the idiom foaming at the mouth, which means very … [Read more...]

Strait-laced

The phrasal adjective meaning strict in behavior or morality is strait-laced, not straight-laced. Strait here bears a mostly archaic definition that survives primarily in this phrasal verb---namely, narrow, constricted, or fitting tightly. It's possible to imagine where straight-laced might make sense (for example, in contrasting straight laces with curved ones), but such instances don't come up often.    Examples This movie is about a bunch of strait-laced guys who hit Vegas for a bachelor … [Read more...]

Translucent vs. transparent

Things that are transparent are so clear you can see through them as if there's nothing there. Things that are translucent allow light through but with significant diffusion or distortion. So if you hold something transparent---say, a square of flat, clear glass---in front of these words, you'll be able to read them. If you hold up something translucent---say, a tinted or decorated glass with water in it---you'll see the glow of your screen but probably won't be able to read the … [Read more...]

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