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Protagonist, antagonist

A protagonist is the main character in a drama. Technically, there can only be one protagonist in a drama, though writers often use the word in reference to two or more central characters. The antagonist is the main character's chief opponent.Because the protagonist is the main character in the drama---and because there can technically only be one---phrases such as main protagonist and central protagonist are redundant. Example Katniss, the protagonist, is so mixed up from pretending to … [Read more...]

Textish

Textish, sometimes referred to as textese, txtese, textspeak, texting language, txt talk, or SMS language, is our term for all those abbreviations and slang terms born of the necessity for brevity in text messages, instant messages, and social networking. Due to the ubiquity of these communication methods, Textish has made its way into emails, web forums, web comment sections, and blogs (all mostly okay), as well as college papers and job application cover letters (less okay).Textish takes … [Read more...]

Wet vs. whet

Wet is (1) an adjective meaning covered or soaked in liquid, and (2) a verb meaning to make wet. Whet is a verb meaning to sharpen or to stimulate. The latter has origins in Old English, where it related to sharpness and sharpening, but in modern usage it's confined almost exclusively to the phrase whet [one's] appetite. Because it's more or less forgotten outside this phrase, whet is easy to confuse with the far more common wet. Examples Whet Here are some images of the freshly painted wall … [Read more...]

OK vs. okay

Okay, OK, and O.K. are all acceptable spellings of the word. OK is more common in edited writing, but okay appears about a third of the time. O.K. is preferred by a few publications, including the New York Times, even though it is not an abbreviation of anything in modern use.The word has several main uses. As an adjective, it's synonymous with acceptable, passable, or good. Something that is OK is positive, but not as positive as it could be. It also works as an interjection used to … [Read more...]

Inter-, intra-

The prefix inter- means between or among. The prefix intra- means within. For example, an interstate highway is one that goes between or among states, while an intrastate highway is one that exists only within a single state.Intra- and inter- can be attached to any common noun without a hyphen---although, as the below examples show, many writers aren't comfortable doing so. Your spell check might catch your unhyphenated inter-/intra- coinages, but spell check would be wrong. … [Read more...]

Status quo

The Latin loan phrase status quo, meaning literally the state in which, is used in English to mean the existing condition or state of affairs. The phrase usually serves as a noun, but it can also function as a phrasal adjective preceding a noun.Status in quo is a longer, unnecessary variant of status quo, and status quo ante, mostly used in legal contexts, means the state of affairs at a previous time.Because status quo means current state of affairs, the phrase current status quo is … [Read more...]

Its vs. it’s

Its, without an apostrophe, is the possessive of the pronoun it. It's, with an apostrophe, is a contraction of it is or it has. If you're not sure which spelling to use, try replacing it with it is or it has. If neither of those phrases works in its place, then its is the word you're looking for.Most English speakers are comfortable with the difference between its and it's, yet even the most careful writers mix them up in careless moments. Such errors are typos, not grammar mistakes (there … [Read more...]

Phrasal adjectives

A phrasal adjective (also known as an adjective phrase or compound adjective) is a phrase that modifies a noun. Phrasal adjective hyphenation When a phrasal adjective precedes a noun, it usually takes a hyphen or, for phrases of three or more words, hyphens. This makes things easier for your reader and helps prevent miscues---for example: razor-sharp witover-the-top characterslarger-than-life personality The same phrases are unhyphenated when they come after what they modify---for … [Read more...]

Italics (when to italicize)

There are different schools of thought on when to use italics, but most style guides agree on a few points:It's okay to occasionally use italics for emphasis, but avoid doing it too much. Instead, use sentence construction to emphasize important words. Italicize foreign words or phrases that are unlikely to be familiar to most of your readers. But loanwords and loan phrases that are well established in English don't need to be italicized. Italicize words presented as words (e.g., the … [Read more...]

Ad hominem (usage)

The Latin loan phrase ad hominem, meaning, literally, to the person, is short for argumentatum ad hominem, a logical fallacy in which one ignores the merits of an opponent's argument and instead attacks the opponent's personality or character. Ad hominem would usually bear replacement with the English personal, but the phrase comes in handy in contexts relating to argumentation.Because ad hominem has been in the language a long time, there's no need to italicize it. And like other … [Read more...]

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