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Beyond the pale

The idiom beyond the pale preserves an otherwise archaic sense of pale---namely, a region or district lying within an imposed boundary---so beyond the pale means outside the bounds. In modern use the idiom is usually metaphorical, meaning (1) beyond the bounds of civilized behavior, or (2) bizarre. Modern writers often use the phrase to mean abhorrent, but this is a little extreme.Beyond the pail is a common misspelling. Considered literally, something beyond the pail is past the … [Read more...]

Paean, paeon, peon

A paean (pronounced PEE-in, sometimes spelled pean) is a fervent expression of joy or praise, often in song.A paeon (pronounced PEE-in or PEE-on) is a four-syllable metrical foot in prosody. Anyone who doesn't analyze poetry will never have use for the word.A peon (pronounced PEE-on) is an unskilled laborer or menial worker. Today, use of the word is most common in Indian English, where it's used to describe any worker and presumably doesn't have negative connotations. In American and … [Read more...]

Playwright vs. playwrite

A person who writes plays is a playwright, not a playwrite, but the act of writing plays is usually spelled playwriting. The wright in the compound noun playwright is a little-used word referring to one who constructs or repairs something. It also appears in shipwright, which refers to a person who builds ships.Playwrighting is a rare and old variant, registered in some dictionaries, but it usually gives way to playwriting in edited texts.Of course, playright is a … [Read more...]

Acclimate, acclimatise, acclimatize

Acclimate, acclimatise, and acclimatize share one of their definitions: to accustom or become accustomed to a new environment or situation. In British and Australian English, acclimatise appears most often and is generally preferred over the alternatives. In American English, acclimatize is recommended by many dictionaries and usage guides, yet acclimate, which is actually the older word, is far more common. Canadian writers tend to use acclimatize.The words' corresponding nouns are … [Read more...]

Bazaar vs. bizarre

A bazaar (sometimes bazar) is (1) a market consisting of a street lined with shops and stalls, or (2) a fair or sale at which miscellaneous items are sold, often for charitable purposes. Bizarre (not bizzare---a misspelling) is an adjective meaning strikingly unconventional and far-fetched in style or appearance. The two words are homophones, but their origins are different; bazaar has Persian roots, and bizarre comes via Spanish likely from Basque. Examples Shops catering to tourists in the … [Read more...]

Melted vs. molten

Melted is the past tense and past participle of the verb to melt. For example, we say something melted yesterday, that something has melted in the sun, and that the thing that was left in the sun is melted.Molten is another participial adjective derived from melt, but in today's English it is used primarily in reference to melted metals and minerals. And even in reference to these things, melted is often used as the past tense. For example, we might write the molten copper melted … [Read more...]

Aeroplane vs. airplane

Aeroplane and airplane are different forms of the same word. Airplane is preferred in American and Canadian English, while aeroplane is traditionally preferred in non-North American varieties of English. But airplane has been steadily gaining ground in British publications, and it may someday become standard. Meanwhile, aeroplane is almost completely absent from American and Canadian publications, and to North Americans it may have an old-fashioned ring. Examples For example, these British and … [Read more...]

Regime vs. regimen

A regimen is a systematic approach to diet, medicine, or exercise. The word has other meanings, but this is its most common use. Regime can carry the same meaning, but it has additional definitions---mainly, (1) a form of government, and (2) a government in power---that it doesn't share with regimen. Keeping the words separate might be a good idea for clarity's sake, but in practice they are both commonly used in reference to systematic approaches to things.British writers are more likely … [Read more...]

Ambiance vs. ambience

Ambience and ambiance are different spellings of the same word, referring to the special atmosphere or mood of a particular environment. While some dictionaries list ambiance as the standard spelling, ambience is far more common in all main 21st-century varieties of English. It's worth noting, though, that ambiance tends to take precedence in contexts relating to art and design, but this is by no means a rule, and exceptions abound.Ambiance is the French word from which the English one … [Read more...]

Commentator vs. commenter

A commenter is someone who makes isolated comments. These days, the word most often refers to people who post comments on blogs and news websites. A commentator is someone who provides commentary. The term usually applies to professionals in sports broadcasting or television news. Commentators don't just make one comment; commenting is what they do.The difference between these words corresponds to the difference between a comment and commentary. A comment is an isolated remark, while a … [Read more...]

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