Briton is the most widely accepted term for people from Britain (which of course is not the same as England and the United Kingdom). Britisher had a brief heyday in the 20th century, but it was always only an American term and was never accepted by Britons themselves. Brit is not offensive, but it is informal. Of these words, Brit appears most often because it serves as both a noun and an adjective, and probably also because it's short and not a homophone with Britain. Briton is only a noun, … [Read more...]

Addition vs. edition

The noun edition mostly relates to publishing and broadcasting. Its main definitions are (1) the entire number of copies of a publication, (2) a version of a publication, (3) a radio or television news program, and (4) the release of any number of like or identical items produced as a set. Addition relates to adding and things that are added. It means (1) the act or process of adding, and (2) something added. Examples The difference between these words is straightforward, but writers sometimes … [Read more...]

Taken aback

Aback is a mostly archaic adverb originally meaning at or on the back. So when someone was taken aback they were caught off guard by something coming from behind. From this derives the meaning of the modern idiom, take aback, usually inflected taken aback: surprised or disconcerted. Examples: There are Britons in Berlin who get taken aback by the directness of Germans. [BBC News] We're often taken aback when a respected governor, political candidate, husband or wife is caught cheating. … [Read more...]

Testament vs. testimony

The main definitions of testimony are (1) a declaration of truth or fact, (2) a declaration by a witness under oath, and (3) a public declaration regarding a religious experience. Testament, in addition to meaning (1) something that serves as proof or evidence, may also mean (2) a statement of belief, (3) one of the two main divisions of the Bible, and (4) a written document providing for the disposition of a person's property. So testament makes more sense in constructions like, "His kindness … [Read more...]

Despite vs. in spite of

The prepositions in spite of and despite are exactly the same in all their definitions, and they are usually interchangeable. For writers who value brevity, despite is better. There's nothing wrong with in spite of, though, and sometimes the three-syllable term sounds better than the two-syllable one. Although despite generally appears about five times as often as in spite of, despite is even more heavily favored in edited writing. For example, the despite--in spite of ratio in large news … [Read more...]


The original definition of the adjective droll is amusingly odd or whimsically comical. The word comes from the French drôle, a noun meaning buffoon or scamp, so the English word should be synonymous with buffoonish. But some writers use droll to mean deadpan, sarcastic, muted, or dull or to describe someone with a dry sense of humor. There is no etymological basis for this, yet it is common. For example, these writers obviously don't mean amusingly odd, whimsically comical, or buffoonish … [Read more...]

Collegial vs. collegiate

Collegial and collegiate both mean of or relating to college, and they are interchangeable in this sense, though collegiate is far more common. Collegial is closely related to the noun colleague, though, so it has a couple of senses it doesn't share with collegiate---namely, (1) of or relating to colleagues, and (2) characterized by camaraderie or cooperation. In 21st-century English, collegial is much more often used in these senses than in the one it shares with collegiate. Yet for some … [Read more...]

All in all

The idiom meaning everything being taken into account is all in all, not all and all. All in all is an emphatically redundant variant of in all, which has roughly the same meaning. In fact, for writers who value concision, in all is a good replacement for all in all. Examples The eggcorn, all and all, is surprisingly common. Here are a few examples from current news and blogs: All and all, Tim Pawlenty did not stumble, meaning his campaign can count today as a win. [Des Moines … [Read more...]

Equivalence vs. equivalency

Equivalence is the more common form of the noun meaning the state or condition of being equal or interchangeable. Equivalency is usually just a less common variant of equivalence, with the main exception being in relation to American and Canadian educational equivalency exams (see below for examples). This ngram, which graphs the use of equivalence and equivalency in a large number of English-language books published from 1800 to 2000, shows that there is no competition: But when we … [Read more...]


In French, the noun protégé has aigu accents over both e's. In English, some writers and publishers preserve the French accents, but English is not kind to these marks. They are often omitted in informal writing, and they are increasingly omitted in edited writing.  Unlike résumé, which when unaccented can be confused with the verb resume, protégé does not have an unaccented homograph with which it may be confused, so dropping the accents does not create ambiguity. Examples With … [Read more...]

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