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Apropos

The loanword apropos comes from the French phrase à propos de, meaning with respect to. In English, apropos is conventionally used as a preposition meaning with regard to, and it's also an adjective for pertinent or to the point. Apropos is often misused in place of appropriate. This sense of apropos has nothing to do with the original French phrase or the word's conventional meaning. In such cases, appropriate is a perfectly good replacement. Still, this use of apropos is common that we … [Read more...]

Anyway vs. anyways

Anyways is a colloquial variant of the adverb anyway. It has a casual tone and may be considered out of place in formal or serious writing. In such contexts, anyway is safer. Although considered informal, anyways is not wrong. In fact, there is much precedent in English for the adverbial -s suffix, which was common in Old and Middle English and survives today in words such as towards, once, always, and unawares. But while these words survive from a period of English in which the … [Read more...]

Decry vs. descry

To decry is to denounce or disparage. To descry is (1) to see in the distance or (2) to discern with the eye. Both verbs come from the Old French descrier, meaning to call or cry out, but they came to English by different paths and developed distinct meanings long ago. Examples We decry rote memorisation merely because it is old-fashioned. But aren't today's cut-and-paste PowerPoint presentations even dumber? [Times Higher Education] Visitors to the platform will be able to look south and … [Read more...]

Someplace vs. some place

The one-word someplace is not out of place in informal writing, but it might be considered questionable in formal contexts, as it is yet to be accepted as a standard form and is listed in dictionaries only as a colloquialism. The compound may someday catch on (as someday has), but for now the two-word some place is always safer, and it is by far the more common form in published writing from this century. Examples These writers get away with using someplace because the tone is informal: But … [Read more...]

Common French expressions

These idiomatic expressions are widely used in places where French is spoken, but some make little sense when translated directly into English. They're similar to the English expressions How's it going? or What's up? in that, read literally, they don't make much sense. How's what going? Up where? Comment allez-vous? Pronounced commahn-tallay-voo, this phrase means How are you? Comment means how; allez is a conjugated version of the verb aller, meaning to go; and vous means you. Thus, the … [Read more...]

Deduce vs. induce

To deduce is to draw a specific conclusion from a general principle. To induce is to derive a general principle from specific observations. The distinction extends to the verbs' corresponding nouns, deduction and induction, and they're the basis of what we mean when we say deductive or inductive reasoning (though a philosopher or logician might rightly point out there is much more to these terms).  A simple example: Because all animals with hair are mammals, we can deduce that the furry … [Read more...]

Heterometric

A heterometric poem or stanza is composed of lines of varying lengths and metrical structures. The opposite is an isometric stanza, which is a stanza composed of lines of equal length and metrical structure. In traditional poetry, there are a few types of heterometric stanzas, including the Sapphic and the Spenserian stanza. In poetry written since the early 20th century, heterometric stanzas are very common. This stanza from John Clare's "Song" (1835) is heterometric, composed of four … [Read more...]

Quasi

Quasi was originally a Latin word meaning as if, and it's now an English word meaning seeming, seemingly, sort of, or in the nature of. It works as either an adjective or an adverb, and it's frequently used in phrasal adjectives. When quasi is a standalone adjective modifying a noun, no hyphen is required, yet by convention many writers do use a hyphen to affix quasi to the noun it modifies, creating a quasi-compound noun---for example: [P]owerful multinationals have conducted themselves … [Read more...]

Flammable vs. inflammable

There is no difference in meaning between flammable and inflammable. Both describe things that are capable of burning or easy to ignite, but in all modern varieties of English, flammable is preferred. Inflammable, derived from the verb inflame, is the original word. But because the first syllable is easily misinterpreted as the common negative prefix in- (as in, for example, inescapable, invulnerable, inorganic), the word has always caused confusion. Because this confusion can have … [Read more...]

Albeit

The conjunction albeit has been labeled archaic, but it appears to be making a comeback, especially in American English. It means though or although, but it is not interchangeable with these words in all circumstances. Think of it as a shorter way of saying although it is or although it be. Examples Albeit is often used to introduce an adjectival or adverbial phrase that makes a concession about the preceding noun or verb---for example: This morning we gratefully received a long overdue … [Read more...]

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