Picaresque vs. picturesque

Picaresque Picaresque comes via French from the Spanish picaro, and it's probably related to the verbs pique and prick. Its modern English definition is unchanged from its French and Spanish meaning. As an adjective, it means (1) roguish or (2) of or involving clever rogues and adventurers---which refers to a genre of satiric Spanish fiction. As a noun, picaresque refers to a person who embodies these qualities. Here are a few examples: Jill Dawson's vivid seventh novel is the picaresque tale … [Read more...]

As per

The adverbial phrase as per, which comes from business writing, usually means in accordance with, as in these examples: As per the earlier agreement, Hero Honda was not allowed to export bikes. [] The time of the contract will depend on the user as per his convenience. [PR Wall Street] As per is especially common in Indian publications. We can't explain this. Outside India, careful writers tend to avoid as per because it has a jargonistic tone, and simply saying in accordance … [Read more...]

Enclose vs. inclose

Enclose is the preferred spelling of the verb meaning to shut in, to surround, or to insert in the same envelope. Inclose was once an accepted variant, but it has faded out of use and now might be considered a misspelling of enclose. This extends to all derived words; enclosed, enclosing, and enclosure, are preferred to inclosed, inclosing, and inclosure. The ngram below graphs the use of enclose and inclose in a large number English-language books published from 1800 to 2000. It shows … [Read more...]

Capital vs. capitol

As a noun, capital refers to (1) a city that serves as a center of government, (2) wealth in the form of money or property, and (3) a capital letter. As an adjective, it means (1) principal, (2) involving financial assets, and (3) deserving of the death penalty. There are other definitions of capital, but these are the most commonly used ones. Capitol has two very specific definitions (outside ancient Rome): (1) a U.S. state legislature building, and (2) the U.S. Capitol building in … [Read more...]

Like gangbusters

Usage of the idiom like gangbusters has become a little weird over the years. Originally it meant with great initial excitement, speedily, with a strong start, or with immediate success. The idiom originally came from the midcentury American radio program Gang Busters, which began each episode with great excitement and vigor (i.e., with lots of loud sound effects). You can hear some episodes here. But in the years since the show went off the air, the meaning of like gangbusters has become … [Read more...]

Alternate vs. alternative

An alternate is something or someone that serves in place of another. An alternative is a second option that does not replace the first. For example, when a road undergoing maintenance is closed to traffic, you have to take an alternate route. But when an under-construction road is still accessible to traffic, you might choose to take an alternative route to avoid congestion. The first option is still there, and the alternative gives you a choice. The words are also adjectives. As an … [Read more...]

Spoiled vs. spoilt

In American and Canadian English, spoiled is both a past-tense verb (e.g., it spoiled yesterday) and a past-participial adjective (e.g., the spoiled milk). In varieties of English from outside North America, spoiled is usually the past-tense verb (it spoiled yesterday),  and spoilt is usually the past-participial adjective (the spoilt milk). This is not a rule, however, and examples of spoiled used as an adjective outside the North America are easily found in all sorts of … [Read more...]

Per se

The loan phrase per se comes from the Latin itself, and in modern English it's usually an adjective meaning in itself, by itself, of itself, or intrinsically. Unlike most adjectives in English, per se usually follows the word it modifies, as in these examples: The best controlled studies conclude that bed-sharing per se does not put infants at risk. [Sacramento Bee] Our astonishment exists per se and isn't based on comparison with something else. [Wisława Szymborska] For the most part, … [Read more...]

Exercise vs. exorcise

To exercise is to engage in activity meant to improve one's physical fitness (and of course the word has many other definitions, none having to do with casting out spirits). To exorcise is to purge something spiritually bad. Generally, what is exorcised is the evil entity that is cast out, but the word sometimes takes as its direct object the person from whom the evil entity is cast out (as in the first and last examples below). Examples Most English speakers are comfortable with exercise, so … [Read more...]

Engrain vs. ingrain

Ingrain is the standard spelling of the verb meaning to impress deeply. Engrain is an accepted variant, but it appears only rarely. It does not have any meanings of its own. The preference for ingrain extends to ingrained, which is actually more common than the uninflected form. Examples Ingrained is preferred throughout the English-speaking world. Here are a few examples of the word in action: Long-term education is needed to change historically and culturally ingrained habits and to … [Read more...]

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