Amalgam vs. amalgamation

Amalgam means a combination of diverse elements. Amalgamation is sometimes used in the same sense---and dictionaries list it as a variant of amalgam---but today it's often used to refer to the act of combining diverse elements. So an amalgam is created through amalgamation. Examples In these examples, amalgam denotes the combination resulting from the mixture of diverse elements: Unlike Tunisia and Egypt, Libya as a country is actually an amalgam of about 140 tribes and clans. [NPR] Marcel … [Read more...]

Waive vs. wave

To waive is (1) to give up a claim or right voluntarily, (2) to refrain from enforcing something, or (3) to set something aside temporarily. To wave is to move back and forth or up and down or to make an up-and-down or back-and-forth hand signal. The words are closely related to waiver and waver, which have related distinctions. Examples The guard will wave you through, and you will follow the road around the entire stadium until you come upon Parking Lot P.  [Los Angeles Times] Some … [Read more...]

Auger vs. augur

Auger always related to tools and engineering. Some augers are drill bits, others are used to bore holes in wood or ice, and others are used to unclog toilets. The word can also be a verb meaning to use an auger. Augur always relates to premonition. As a verb, it means (1) to predict or foretell or (2) to be an omen. As a noun, augur denotes something that is ominous or that serves as a bellwether. Unsurprisingly, auger is often used in place of augur---for example: But the fact the club was … [Read more...]

Ageing vs. aging

For the past participle and gerund corresponding to the verb age, American and Canadian writers use aging. Ageing is the preferred spelling outside North America. The dropping of the e in American and Canadian English does not extend to ageism (meaning discrimination based on age), which is the preferred spelling everywhere. Examples For example, these major publications use the preferred American and Canadian spelling of aging: We need promotional campaigns to make aging seem more appealing … [Read more...]

An historic

In all main varieties of English, the use of an as the article preceding historic (an historic) is an unnecessary affectation. The rule for the indefinite article is that we use a before words beginning with a consonant sound, and an before words beginning with a vowel sound. The h at the beginning of historic is a consonant sound, soft though it may be. As far as we know, there are no modern English dialects in which the h in historic is silent (please correct us if we're wrong), so there's no … [Read more...]

Altar vs. alter

Alter, meaning to change or adjust, is always a verb (except in the phrase alter ego, meaning a second self). Altar, meaning an elevated place or structure before which religious ceremonies may be enacted or on which sacrifices may be offered, is always a noun. The words are homophones, but their origins are different; alter comes from a Latin word meaning other, and altar comes from the Latin altāria. Examples The two words are occasionally confused, especially alter in place of the less … [Read more...]

Remunerate vs. renumerate

To remunerate is to pay for goods, services, or losses. The word's root is related to money (hence mune), not number.1 Renumerate is a common misspelling. At least one dictionary lists the latter as an actual word meaning to recount, but in every instance that we can find, renumerate is just a misspelling of remunerate.2 Examples The suggestion was to remunerate teachers more on a personal basis related to individual contribution. [Lawrence Journal World] The wage cut backfired---Fidesz … [Read more...]


Adminstrate is a superfluous word formed via backformation from the noun administration. It always bears replacement with the shorter, older administer, which means (1) to have charge of, (2) to give or apply in a formal way, (3) to dispense, or (4) to manage. Administrate has no definitions of its own. Example In these examples, administrate could be replaced with administer: They dohave a freak show to administrate, after all. [Slate] Crawford County Commissioners at their meeting Friday … [Read more...]

Led vs. lead

The verb lead makes led in the past tense and as a past participle. Writers often mistakenly use lead in these roles, perhaps due to erroneous analogy with the verb read, which is uninflected. Lead is of course the correct spelling for the malleable, bluish-white element used in pipes, solder, bullets, and paints. … [Read more...]


The rare noun wether means a castrated male sheep. The word bellwether (from the Middle English bellewether) originally referred to a wether that wore a bell around his neck and led the herd. Today, while herders may still use the term in that sense, the word is more often used metaphorically, meaning one that serves as a leader or as a leading indicator of future trends. Bellwether may be a noun or an adjective. The word is occasionally misspelled bellweather, perhaps partially because … [Read more...]

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