The noun apotheosis traditionally means (1) deification, (2) glorification, and (3) an exalted or glorified example. But in practical usage, the word is almost always used as a synonym of apex, quintessence, or culmination. This sense appears even in publications with high editorial standards---for example: Obama could do that in the presidential campaign because he was the thrilling apotheosis of the multi-century struggle against racism. [Washington Post] Bagshaw is the apotheosis of the … [Read more...]

That which

The phrase that which often could be shortened to one-word equivalent pronouns such as what and whatever. The main exception is when that which refers to an antecedent. Examples In these examples, that which is just a wordy way of saying what and could be shortened: That which has been obvious for some time now is finally being officially acknowledged. [CNN] Maybe that which doesn't kill us really does make us strong. [Sydney Morning Herald] But it is a trifle unfair that new … [Read more...]

Plain vs. plane

Plain and plane are distinct in most of their definitions, but they almost converge where plain refers to a flat, treeless area of land and plane refers to a flat, level surface. But even here, the distinction is simple: A plain is a land formation, while plane is abstract, mainly appearing in mathematics and other specialized fields. Outside those definitions, plain and plane are not as easily confused. Plane most often appears as an abbreviation of airplane. Its other definitions relate to … [Read more...]


The verb surveil, originally a backformation of surveillance, was long considered nonstandard, and even now is still so new to the language (the earliest instances date from the early 1960s)1 that some dictionaries don't include it, and your spell check might disapprove of it. But even though survey is closely related, etymologically, to surveillance, survey does not carry the sense to keep under surveillance (where surveillance means close observation, especially of one under suspicion).2 For … [Read more...]


The noun potentiality is often used where potential or possibility would make more sense. It has a two main dictionary-approved definitions---(1) the inherent capacity to grow or come into being, and (2) a person or thing that possesses potential. The first definition is almost identical to the main definition of potential, however, and the second comes very close to possibility. So potentiality often bears replacement with those more common words. Examples For example, potential could replace … [Read more...]

Palate, palette, pallet

The palate is (1) the roof of the mouth, and (2) the sense of taste, and it's also a fancy word for flavor, especially in writing on food wine. A palette is the board painters use to hold and mix their colors. By extension, it sometimes denotes the range of colors used in a design or work of art. Pallet usually refers to a platform used for moving cargo or freight, but the word has several other rare definitions in industry and shipping. Examples The snaptastic house-made sausage sported … [Read more...]

A whole nother

The common phrase a whole nother, formed by splitting the adjective another, makes no sense from a logical or grammatical standpoint, but it is often used informally or to create a colloquial tone in writing. Because it is informal, the phrase might be considered out of place in any type of serious writing. A whole other makes more sense, and there are one-word equivalents, such as different, separate, and unrelated, that are usually better in formal contexts. Many writers insert an … [Read more...]

Skilful vs. skillful

For the adjective meaning with skill or having skill, skillful is the preferred spelling in American English, and skilful is preferred in all other main varieties of English. Skillful appears with relatively high frequency in Canadian publications, but the ratio is still 4:1 in favor of skilful. Aside from spelling, there is no difference between the two words. Examples U.S. Many of his ­essays and stories would benefit from skillful paring. [Wall Street Journal] Two of the most skillful … [Read more...]


Because rid, meaning to free from, is uninflected in its past-tense, perfect, and past-participle forms, ridded is a superfluous word. It's listed in a few dictionaries, but most usage authorities recommend against it. So, for example, "we rid ourselves of it yesterday" and "we have rid ourselves of all our belongings" are correct. Ridden is a useful word, but it has nothing to do with the verb rid. It's a participle of ride, and it's an adjective meaning afflicted or dominated by … [Read more...]

Hear, hear vs. here, here

Hear, hear (usually with a comma and set apart as a self-contained sentence) is the conventional spelling of the colloquial exclamation used to express approval for a speaker or sentiment. It's essentially short for hear him, hear him or hear this, hear this, where these phrases are a sort of cheer. Here, here is widely regarded as a misspelling, although it is a common one, and there are ways to logically justify its use. But for what it's worth, hear, hear is the original form (the Oxford … [Read more...]

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