Ad hominem (usage)

The Latin loan phrase ad hominem, meaning, literally, to the person, is short for argumentatum ad hominem, a logical fallacy in which one ignores the merits of an opponent's argument and instead attacks the opponent's personality or character. Ad hominem would usually bear replacement with the English personal, but the phrase comes in handy in contexts relating to argumentation. Because ad hominem has been in the language a long time, there's no need to italicize it. And like other … [Read more...]

Per diem

The Latin loan phrase per diem, literally meaning per day, is used in English to mean by the day, per day, reckoned on a daily basis, or paid by the day. It also works as a noun referring to a daily allowance, usually given by an employer or client, for expenses. In normal use, per diem does not need to be italicized. Some writers hyphenate the phrase when it's a phrasal adjective preceding a noun (e.g., on a per-diem basis), but in English we usually leave that phrasal-adjective hyphen out … [Read more...]

Envision vs. invision

Envision (which is different from envisage) is the standard spelling of the verb meaning to picture in the mind or imagine. Invision is an alternate spelling that is no longer in use. A 1913 Webster's unabridged dictionary lists a separate noun sense of invision: lack of vision or the power of seeing. But we can't find any examples of the word used this way. Examples The way they were struggling early on this season made it hard to envision the Bears going so far. [AP] Some envision the … [Read more...]

Mic vs. mike

Both mike and mic commonly appear as shortened forms of microphone, but mike is the accepted spelling in most dictionaries. Mic presents difficulties because it looks like it should be pronounced mick and because it produces the problematic participles miced and micing. Miked and miking work better. Of course, however the word is spelled, it is a verb mainly in the phrase mic/mike up, meaning to put a mic on someone or something. Examples Mike Properly uniformed, Cos took the mike to … [Read more...]


Somersault is the standard spelling of the noun denoting the acrobatic stunt involving a complete revolution of the body with the knees bent. Alternative spellings such as summersault, somersalt, and summerset appear in some dictionaries and are not completely absent from published writing, and your spell check might not catch them, but somersault is by far the most common form and is most faithful to the word's French roots. … [Read more...]

Opossum vs. possum

The term possum covers about 70 species of marsupials native to Australia and surrounding islands. Opossum covers over 100 species of marsupials living in the Western Hemisphere. Opossums are often referred to colloquially as possums (or 'possums), but in scientific contexts, possum and opossum refer to different groups of animals. Examples Western marsupials We saw an opossum in our backyard last week. Have they always lived in Michigan? [letter to Detroit Free Press] In the Appalachian … [Read more...]

Feminity vs. femininity

Femininity is the standard form of the noun referring to behavior or qualities thought to be characteristic of females. Fiminity is an old variant, and some find it appealing because it is shorter and easier to say. Yet in modern English, it appears only very rarely, and femininity prevails by an overwhelming margin. The ngram below graphs occurrence of the two forms in a large number of English-language texts published through the 20th century. As you can see, feminity barely registers … [Read more...]


Aught is a pronoun meaning anything whatever. Though the word has an archaic ring in the U.S., it is fairly common outside North America, especially in the U.K., where it's a dialectal synonym of anything. Aught is an ancient word. It goes back to Old English in various forms, and though it has taken many spellings over the centuries, its meaning has remained consistent through history. It means the same today as it did a thousand years ago, and unlike many other old words, it has not piled … [Read more...]

Chic vs. sheik

The adjective chic (pronounced sheek) comes from French. It means conforming to the current fashion, stylish, or sophisticated. Sheik (which is pronounced either shake or sheek) refers to (1) an Islamic religious official, or (2) a leader of an Arab family or village. Sheikh is a less common variant. Examples These writers use chic in the conventional sense: Just over a year ago, she chopped off her long dark locks for a chic short bob. [Daily Mail] Vacancy rates are still rising and … [Read more...]

Evoke vs. invoke

To evoke is (1) to summon or call forth, (2) to call to mind, and (3) to call up a memory from the past. To invoke is, primarily, to call upon something, especially aid, assistance, or a higher power. Less commonly used senses of invoke include to cite for justification (such as when a lawyer invokes a precedent to make an argument), to conjure, and to resort to. Examples As with terrorism, the public has deep concerns about America's place in the world, but these worries do not evoke a strong … [Read more...]

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