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Quelch vs. squelch

Squelch is a verb meaning (1) to crush by or as if by trampling, (2) to silence, and (3) to suppress. Quelch appears in unabridged dictionaries, but it has never been a well-established or widely used word. It is just a fusion of squelch and the similar verbs quell and quash, both of which mean to put down or suppress forcibly (among their other definitions). Quench might be in the mix as well. Quelch may someday enter the language more broadly, but it doesn't seem to be gaining ground, and … [Read more...]

Exploitative vs. exploitive

The preferred form of the adjective meaning tending to make use of selfishly or unethically is exploitative, not exploitive. This preference is shown across all main varieties of English. Exploitive may seem breezier and more efficient, but English often flouts economy when it comes to the -tative and -tive suffixes. A few dictionaries accept exploitive as an alternative spelling of exploitative, but most correctly acknowledge that the latter is the far more common form. The … [Read more...]

Sort of

The phrase sort of is almost always logically unnecessary, especially when it's used to hedge a direct statement. Most sentences that contain sort of would benefit from its removal. There are exceptions, though. Sort of can be a synonym of type of, and it's also useful for signaling that what follows is not to be taken literally. And of course, sometimes there's nothing wrong with hedging a direct statement, such as when the speaker feels ambivalent about what he or she is … [Read more...]

Sweat vs. sweated

When the verb sweat refers literally to excreting perspiration through the pores, it is often uninflected in the past tense and as a participle. For example, it would be correct to write "I sweat through my shirt this morning" or "I have sweat through my shirt." But to use sweated in place of sweat in instances like these is equally correct. Both forms are many centuries old, and they are about equally common in modern English. Note, however, that some reference books recommend using the … [Read more...]

Minutia, minutiae

Minutia is a singular noun meaning a small detail. Minutiae is the Latin plural of minutia, and we usually use it in English. Latin plurals are often tricky, and many eventually drop out of English in favor of -s plurals, but minutiae is deeply entrenched and is likely to stick around, at least in more formal and technical writing registers. Minutias does not regularly appear. But minutia is often treated as a mass noun (e.g., all the minutia is slowing us down), and it's sometimes treated as … [Read more...]

Voicemail

As any close follower of English could have predicted, the two-word phrase voice mail, which was the most common spelling when the technology was new, has evolved toward the single-word voicemail---no hyphen, no space. Most of the English-speaking world already favors the one-word form. In current British news publications, for instance, the ratio of voicemail to voice mail is about five to one. American writers are the laggards on this one; in current U.S. news publications, the ratio is … [Read more...]

Straitjacket

The long-sleeved garment used to bind a person's arms tightly against the body is a straitjacket. The spelling derives from a little-used, mostly archaic definition of strait---i.e., tightly fitting. The word is commonly misspelled in a number of ways, including straightjacket, strait-jacket, straight-jacket, strait jacket, and straight jacket.  Examples Yet businessmen and victims say supplies are being held up as bureaucracies fall back on tired old rules and straitjacket procedures. [The … [Read more...]

Plethora

A plethora is an overabundance. The excess here is key; in traditional usage of the word, a plethora is too much of something. Today, however, the word is often used as a synonym of plenty or many, which imply abundance but not necessarily overabundance. Examples But decision science has shown that people faced with a plethora of choices are apt to make no decision at all. [Daily Beast] The plethora of mixed motives for the west's engagement with the Arab world make doing the right thing … [Read more...]

Vertex vs. vortex

The noun vertex has two meanings: (1) the highest point, and (2) the point at which the sides of an angle intersect. Vortex refers to a whirling mass of matter. Both are often used metaphorically---vertex for the meeting point between two or more things, and vortex for any chaotic, figuratively swirling mass. Though the words have no definitions in common, they're both derived from the Latin vertere, meaning to turn. Each is pluralized in a pair of ways---vertexes/vertices, and … [Read more...]

Straw man fallacy

The straw man fallacy involves misrepresenting an opponent's position to make it easier to refute. Straw man arguments often oversimplify opposing views or disregard inconvenient points in favor of points that are easy to argue against.  Examples In many instances, the person committing the straw man fallacy highlights the most extreme position of the opposing side---for example: Opposing argument: Teens should be taught about contraception methods so they can practice safe sex should they … [Read more...]

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