Arouse vs. rouse

The verbs arouse and rouse both mean (1) to awake from sleep and (2) to excite. But arouse is usually used figuratively or in reference to feelings, while rouse more commonly refers to physical action and things that inspire action. Also, arouse is more often used in relation to sex, and rouse more often relates to coming out of sleep. These are not rules, however, and we could find many exceptions. For example, rousing is often used to describe works of art that induce strong enthusiasm, … [Read more...]

Blather vs. blither

The verb blither is a variant of blather, meaning to talk nonsensically. Aside from the a/i distinction, the words are the same except for slight connotative differences. Both usually appear in their present-participial forms, blathering and blithering. Blather is preferred by a wide margin in all varieties of English, although blithering is more often used in the phrase blithering idiot. Both words are pejorative, but blithering is harsher (because it's usually followed by the obviously … [Read more...]


The adverb ahold, which usually follows some form of the verb get,is a casual American variant of hold. It has no special meanings of its own. Ahold poses no problem in informal speech and writing, but it might be considered out of place in more formal contexts, where it always bears replacement with hold. Ahold appears occasionally in Canadian English. It is almost nonexistent in varieties of English from outside North America. Examples Most major American publications avoid ahold, but the … [Read more...]

Aesthetic vs. ascetic

Aesthetic relates to beauty and works of art. Ascetic relates to self-discipline and self-denial. Each works as both an adjective and a noun. An ascetic is a person who renounces material comforts and lives an ascetic way of life. An aesthetic comprises the guiding principles behind a work of art or the appreciation of art. The plural aesthetics refers to the philosophy or study of art and the appreciation of beauty. Both words come from Greek, but their roots are separate. Aesthetic comes … [Read more...]

Spit and image vs. spitting image

Spitting image is the usual modern form of the idiom meaning exact likeness, duplicate, or counterpart. The original phrase was spit and image, inspired by the Biblical God's use of spit and mud to create Adam in his image. But spitting image has been far more common than spit and image for over a century. A few writers still use spit and image, but trying to keep the original idiom alive is probably a lost cause. Though it is older and makes more logical sense, it can also be distracting to … [Read more...]


The verb transpire traditionally means (1) to give off vapor, or (2) to become known, but today it is most often used as a formal synonym of happen. Some very careful English users resist this change, but it is well established and probably can't be stopped. Strictly speaking, though, there is no use for this sense of transpire even in formal contexts, as the ancient and reliable happen always works in its place. Examples For example, these writers use transpire as a formal word for … [Read more...]


The French loanword sans is a slightly fancy but appealingly quick way to say without. Careful writers who value unaffected prose are likely to use without instead of sans, but there is nothing wrong with using sans if you like the way it sounds. Though it's originally French, it has a long history of use in English. The Oxford English Dictionary lists examples in English from as long ago as the 14th century, but the word was not widely used until the early 19th century. In French, the s at … [Read more...]

Bight vs. bite

The verb meaning to cut, grip, pierce, or tear with the teeth is bite. The word also has several noun definitions, most having to do with biting and stinging. A bight is (1) a loop in a rope, and (2) a bend in a shoreline or the bay formed by such a bend. The inflected forms of bite are bit and bitten. Examples But the pizza compels your attention to the last bite. [] Point Old stood at an angle to the smashing seas, making a sheltered bight behind it, and into this bight … [Read more...]

Pedal vs. peddle vs. petal

Pedal always relates to bicycles, pianos, organs, boats, looms, sewing machines, and other machines. The pedals are the foot-operated components. The word also functions as a verb meaning to operate pedals. Its participles are pedaled and pedaling in American English. Outside the U.S., they are pedalled and pedalling. Peddle is a verb meaning to sell or to travel about selling goods. It often refers to the sale of illicit goods. And petal is easy. It is always a noun referring to one of … [Read more...]


For the noun meaning a brief account of one's professional or work experience and qualifications, most English reference sources recommend résumé, with the French accent aigu on both e's. This is good advice for all formal contexts, but the accented résumé is likely to fade out of English sooner or later, as most accented words from other languages eventually lose the accents in English. The issue is less important in British and Australian English, where curriculum vitae---or, usually, … [Read more...]

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