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Complement vs. compliment

To complement is to complete something, supplement it, enhance it, or bring it to perfection. For example, your shoes may complement your dress, you and your spouse may complement each other, or minced garlic may complement a pasta dish. To compliment is to give praise. For example, if I were to say that you have a very nice turtle, this would be a compliment to both you and your turtle. Both words also work as nouns whose meanings are easily inferred from the verb senses.A corresponding … [Read more...]

Vouchsafe

To vouchsafe is to condescend to grant something.These writers the word in its traditional sense: At last I am at liberty to vouchsafe to you the dozen rules in reading a political column. [NY Times]We note that the true Prince of Darkness, Dick Cheney, has been dutifully silent, and conspicuously absent, during the recent national security festivities, to vouchsafe the limelight to Junior. [Register] The condescension is key. Vouchsafe is not merely a synonym of grant. For example, … [Read more...]

Safe-deposit box

The phrase referring to a box in which valuables are stored is safe-deposit box, not safety-deposit box. The latter is an eggcorn resulting from a mishearing of the former. The mistake is understandable because the first two syllables of safe-deposit box sound like safety. … [Read more...]

Gray vs. grey

Gray and grey are different spellings of the same word, and both are used throughout the English-speaking world. But gray is more common in American English, while grey is more common in all the other main varieties of English. In the U.K., for instance, grey appears about twenty times for every instance of gray. In the U.S. the ratio is reversed.Both spellings, which have origins in the Old English grǽg, have existed hundreds of years.1 Grey gained ascendancy in all varieties of English in … [Read more...]

Hangar vs. hanger

A hanger is (1) one who hangs something, or (2) an item used to hang things. A hangar is a shelter used for housing and maintaining aircraft. Examples About 12 to 15 privately owned planes are parked outside at the Luzerne County-owned Wyoming Valley Airport in Forty Fort because the hangars are full. [Wilkes Barre Times-Leader (now offline)]The officer found five jackets on hangers inside the suitcase. [Royal Gazette]When the Sheriff's Office decided to build a hangar for its aviation … [Read more...]

Pendant vs. pendent

Pendent is an adjective meaning hanging, dangling, or suspended. It is often mistakenly used in place of pendant, a noun referring to something suspended from something else, especially a piece of jewelry. Examples Many have pink flowers that grow in a cluster; in some species the flowers are pendent. [Backyard Gardener]The front of the pendant contains pink faux-sapphires woven into rhodium-plated silver. [Neon Tommy]The lighting varies from modern to retro---multicolored, swirling … [Read more...]

Idea vs. ideal

As a noun, ideal refers to (1) a conception of something in its absolute perfection, or (2) an honorable or worthy principle or aim. It is not conventionally a variant or synonym of idea, though it is sometimes colloquially used this way. Example However, this ideal isn't always reached by governments that want their thumbs on the economy and, more particularly, the revenue it represents. [Small Business Trends]The pluralistic ideal that many communities strive for is an unattainable … [Read more...]

Naught vs. nought

Both naught and nought mean nothing, and in American English they are more or less interchangeable (though naught is the more common spelling). Elsewhere, they are different. Nought is conventionally used in British English for the number zero---for example: This season that figure is at 1.36: they are fifth despite scoring just 25 goals and having a goal difference of nought. [Guardian]The number opting for the subject ranges from nought to 90 per cent. [The Independent] In both British … [Read more...]

Breach, breech, broach

Breachis a noun referring to (1) an opening or gap or (2) a violation or disruption, and a verb meaning (3) to make a hole or gap in or to break through. Breech is only a noun. It refers to to (1) the lower rear portion of the human trunk, or (2) the part of a firearm behind the barrel. The term breech birth (meaning the feet- or buttocks-first delivery of a baby) employs the word in its first sense.Broach means (1) to make a hole in something, usually to draw off liquid, or (2) to bring up … [Read more...]

Homo sapiens

Homo sapiens, Latin for wise man or knowing man, is a singular phrasal noun. Like all Latin taxonomic names, Homo sapiens is italicized. The genus name (Homo) is capitalized, and the species name (sapiens) is not. After the first mention, it is often abbreviated H. sapiens.The s at the end of sapiens is deceptive to English speakers because it makes the term sound plural, even though it's not. That's why so many writers give it plural verbs, as these do: Homo sapiens are an awfully vain … [Read more...]

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