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Goes without saying

It's easy to be hard on goes without saying---if something goes without saying, why say it?---but the phrase sometimes works well as a wordy way of saying obviously, and it can be useful for emphasis or transition. Of course, when tempted to say something goes without saying, you might want to examine whether you need to say that thing. But if you do need to say that thing and goes without saying seems like a pretty good transitional phrase, don't let its literal meaning stop you.While goes … [Read more...]

Teetotaler, teetotaller

The noun teetotaler---reportedly coined in 1833 by an English abstinence advocate---means one who abstains completely from alcohol beverages. The single-l spelling, teetotaler, is preferred in American English. Teetotaller, with two l's, is the usual form in the main varieties of English used outside the U.S..Teetotal is the corresponding verb, and teetotalism (in both American and British English) is the practice of abstaining from alcohol. Examples U.S. Trump, known as much for his … [Read more...]

Some odd

The idiom some odd appears in two main uses: (1) following a number and meaning approximately or a little more than (e.g., "there were 50-some-odd people at the banquet"); and (2) in the phrase some odd reason, which means an unknown reason. In both uses, some odd is casual and might be considered out of place in formal contexts. The first one, especially, should be avoided when you need to sound authoritative, as it may signal that you haven't done enough research to provide an exact … [Read more...]

Lead vs. lede

Long ago the noun lede was an alternative spelling of lead, but now lede is mainly journalism jargon for the introductory portion of a news story---or what might be called the lead portion of the news story. Strictly speaking, the lede is the first sentence or short portion of an article that gives the gist of the story and contains the most important points readers need to know. For example, the below lede, from a New York Times story, gives the main piece of news, allowing readers who are not … [Read more...]

Quelch vs. squelch

Squelch is a verb meaning (1) to crush by or as if by trampling, (2) to silence, and (3) to suppress. Quelch appears in unabridged dictionaries, but it has never been a well-established or widely used word. It is just a fusion of squelch and the similar verbs quell and quash, both of which mean to put down or suppress forcibly (among their other definitions). Quench might be in the mix as well.Quelch may someday enter the language more broadly, but it doesn't seem to be gaining ground, and … [Read more...]

Exploitative vs. exploitive

The preferred form of the adjective meaning tending to make use of selfishly or unethically is exploitative, not exploitive. This preference is shown across all main varieties of English.Exploitive may seem breezier and more efficient, but English often flouts economy when it comes to the -tative and -tive suffixes. A few dictionaries accept exploitive as an alternative spelling of exploitative, but most correctly acknowledge that the latter is the far more common form.The … [Read more...]

Sort of

The phrase sort of is almost always logically unnecessary, especially when it's used to hedge a direct statement. Most sentences that contain sort of would benefit from its removal.There are exceptions, though. Sort of can be a synonym of type of, and it's also useful for signaling that what follows is not to be taken literally. And of course, sometimes there's nothing wrong with hedging a direct statement, such as when the speaker feels ambivalent about what he or she is … [Read more...]

Sweat vs. sweated

When the verb sweat refers literally to excreting perspiration through the pores, it is often uninflected in the past tense and as a participle. For example, it would be correct to write "I sweat through my shirt this morning" or "I have sweat through my shirt." But to use sweated in place of sweat in instances like these is equally correct. Both forms are many centuries old, and they are about equally common in modern English.Note, however, that some reference books recommend using the … [Read more...]

Minutia, minutiae

Minutia is a singular noun meaning a small detail. Minutiae is the Latin plural of minutia, and we usually use it in English. Latin plurals are often tricky, and many eventually drop out of English in favor of -s plurals, but minutiae is deeply entrenched and is likely to stick around, at least in more formal and technical writing registers. Minutias does not regularly appear.But minutia is often treated as a mass noun (e.g., all the minutia is slowing us down), and it's sometimes treated as … [Read more...]

Voicemail

As any close follower of English could have predicted, the two-word phrase voice mail, which was the most common spelling when the technology was new, has evolved toward the single-word voicemail---no hyphen, no space.Most of the English-speaking world already favors the one-word form. In current British news publications, for instance, the ratio of voicemail to voice mail is about five to one. American writers are the laggards on this one; in current U.S. news publications, the ratio is … [Read more...]

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