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Right-of-way

Right-of-way, referring to the right for one person or vehicle to pass before another, is usually hyphenated in North American writing, but leaving it unhyphenated is not a serious mistake. Outside North America, it tends to go unhyphenated. … [Read more...]

Et cetera (etc.)

Et cetera, usually abbreviated etc., comes from the Latin et, meaning and, and cetera, meaning the rest. So et cetera literally means and the rest. Overuse  Etc. is best reserved for times when (a) there is no question of what's being omitted, or (b) when listing every item in a large group would be unnecessary. In this example, there's no mystery about what etc. indicates: All non-human primates---monkeys, gorillas, chimpanzees, etc.---exhibit some form of tool use. And in this example, the … [Read more...]

T-shirt, t-shirt, tee-shirt, tee shirt

Most dictionaries recommend T-shirt, and it is the form most common in edited writing throughout the English-speaking world. Yet t-shirt is gaining ground, and both tee-shirt and tee shirt have some adherents. Not one of them is considered incorrect, so while T-shirt might be the safer choice, the others aren't wrong. … [Read more...]

Flora and fauna

Because the nouns flora and fauna usually appear together---the phrase flora and fauna refers to the plants and animals of a given area---it's easy to forget which denotes plants and which denotes animals. Both are usually treated as mass nouns applied to large groups of things, although they do have plural forms---floras and faunas (which most dictionaries recommend over florae and faunae)---should you ever need them. Fauna Fauna, which comes from the name of a Roman fertility goddess, refers … [Read more...]

Deep-seeded vs. deep-seated

Deep-seeded almost makes sense in a metaphorical way (though seeds sown too deeply won't grow), but deep-seated is the term you're looking for. The phrasal adjective (usually requiring a hyphen) simply indicates that something is seated (in the sense fixed firmly in place) deeply in something else. The OED defines it as having its seat far beneath the surface.1 Examples These writers use deep-seated well: The work of deep-seated, sustainable change remains the hardest work there is. [Harvard … [Read more...]

Flesh out vs. flush out

To flesh out is to give substance to something. The idiom flush out (originally from hunting) means to bring something out in the open. Examples Flesh out President Barack Obama will today attempt to flesh out his energy strategy with the unveiling of a major new incentive scheme designed to improve the energy efficiency of commercial buildings. [Business Green] The prequel, which aims to flesh out Sam Axe's backstory, is set in late 2005. [TV Squad] Some of these poets and communities … [Read more...]

Ravaging vs. ravishing

To ravage is to bring heavy destruction, to devastate, or to pillage. The meaning of ravaging is straightforward, as it descends literally from this main sense of ravage. Ravishing is trickier. Ravish has two main meanings: (1) to abduct and rape, and (2) to enrapture. Ravishing extends from the positive second sense---it means, essentially, very attractive---and is generally not associated with the negative first sense, so it is unfit as a synonym of rape. Meanwhile, the form is best … [Read more...]

Amuse vs. bemuse

Something that is amusing is entertaining or funny. Bemusing has an almost opposite meaning. Bemuse means (1) to cause to be bewildered or to confuse, and (2) to cause to be engrossed in thought. Neither of these effects are funny or entertaining. Examples The technology-driven world in which we live today would bemuse even our most recent ancestors. [Wesleyan Argus] West Brom manager Roberto di Matteo said he was bemused by the referee's decision not to award his side a penalty. [BBC … [Read more...]

Bald-faced vs. boldface

If you need a word meaning shameless, brazen, or obvious, use the phrasal adjective bald-faced (and don't forget the hyphen). Of course, this adjective can also be used to describe an unadorned and shaven face. The adjective boldface (not boldfaced) refers to text that looks like this. It has no other uses. Examples FOX News is no stranger to telling bald-faced lies. [Aiken Area Progressive] While "Untouchable" will not change the course of cinema, it is a story that spells "cautionary" in … [Read more...]

Shaved vs. shaven

Shaved is the past tense verb to shave, and it's sometimes used as a past participle. Shaven is only used as a past participle. In other words, shaved is either a verb or an adjective, and shaven is an adjective. So English speakers are more likely to say "I have shaved" than "I have shaven." But "his face is shaven" and "his face is shaved" both work. Shave is one of a few irregular English verbs whose traditional participle forms no longer function as verbs. Others include melt … [Read more...]

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