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Cyclist vs. biker

A cyclist (or bicyclist) is someone who rides a bicycle. A biker is someone who rides a motorcycle. These terms are an ongoing subject of controversy, especially in cyclist circles. But it's best to refer to groups of people as they refer to themselves. Cyclists generally call themselves cyclists, and bikers call themselves bikers. This is the case in the U.S., at least. Examples Devoted cyclists like to brag that they will bike anywhere in San Francisco, regardless of daunting hills and … [Read more...]

Fearful vs. fearsome

To be fearful is (1) to be frightened, or (2) to be inclined to anxiety or fear. The word also works as a colloquial adjective meaning to an extreme degree. To be fearsome is to cause fear or to be capable of causing fear. Things that are fearsome make us fearful. Examples Tens of thousands of people have turned out for the demonstrations despite still being fearful of the notoriously brutal secret police. [Sky News] They have a fearsome reputation as bloodthirsty limb-biters with a taste … [Read more...]

Stanch vs. staunch

Some dictionaries accept stanch and staunch as variant spellings of each other. But if you want to avoid confusion, use stanch as the verb meaning to stop the flow of, check, allay; and use staunch as the adjective meaning firm and steadfast or having a strong constitution. This is how the words are usually treated in edited books and news sources. Examples The push for P.E. is part of the effort to stanch the epidemic of childhood obesity. [Daily Press] Santorum is a favorite of … [Read more...]

That vs. which

That and which are technically interchangeable in many contexts, but there are unwritten rules that tend to guide their use. The two main unwritten rules are: first, if you can use that, it's usually better than which. Second, when you use which, it should follow a comma. These are not unbreakable rules, though, and exceptions abound. Restrictive and nonrestrictive clauses That is generally more useful for introducing restrictive clauses (clauses that give essential information about the … [Read more...]

Poisoning the well

The fallacy known as poisoning the well involves presenting negative information about an opponent to preemptively discredit what he or she says. For example, let's say the president is running for reelection, and her primary opponent is an up-and-coming politician whom few in the public have heard of. Ahead of a televised debate, the president might poison the well by running negative campaign ads that highlight her opponents' past transgressions or supposed moral failures so that viewers … [Read more...]

Mucous vs. mucus

Mucus is a noun referring to the viscous, slippery substance secreted as a protective lubricant coating cells and glands of the mucous membranes. Mucous is an adjective meaning (1) containing, producing, or secreting mucus; or (2) relating to, consisting of, or resembling mucus. In the phrase mucous membrane, mucous is the correct spelling because it is an adjective modifying membrane. Examples Mucus The tableware, the color of mucus and as bendable as a pocket watch in a Salvador Dali … [Read more...]

Loath vs. loathe (vs. loth)

Loathe is a verb meaning to dislike greatly. For example, if you have a mean boss, you might say that you loathe him. Loath is an adjective meaning unwilling or reluctant. For example, you might say that you are loath to to spend time with your mean boss outside work. Loth is a variant of loath and serves no purpose of its own. It is most common in U.K. English, though even U.K. writers prefer loath by a significant margin. If you have trouble remembering the difference … [Read more...]

Prescribe vs. proscribe

To prescribe is (1) to set down as a rule, or (2) to order the use of. Proscribe is almost the opposite; to proscribe is (1) to prohibit, or (2) to denounce or condemn. Examples They may both prescribe positive behaviors (e.g., be honest, transparent, candid, and trustworthy) and proscribe negative ones (e.g., no negative e-mail blasts to team members). [Forbes] Prescribe Lawyers for two of the five students said they plan to ask a court to prescribe drug treatment rather than prison. … [Read more...]

Envision vs. envisage

Both envision and envisage mean to visualize, but they differ slightly in connotation. To envisage is to contemplate or consider something---usually something real---in a certain way, or to predict a particular set of circumstances based on evidence or strong belief. Envisaging often relates to planning real-world projects. When you envision something, it's usually more hypothetical, imaginary, or removed from reality. The difference is subtle, but think of it this way: Envisaging usually … [Read more...]

Lay vs. lie

Lie and lay both have many definitions, but they're most often confused where lie means to recline and lay means to put down. But the distinction is simple: Lay needs an object---something being laid---while lie cannot have an object. For example, you might lay a book on the table, lay a sweater on the bed, or lay a child in her crib. When you feel tired at the end of the day, you may lie down. But you can't lie a book anywhere, and you can't lay down (no object) at the end of the day. The … [Read more...]

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