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Gaff vs. gaffe

Gaffe, with an e, refers to (1) a clumsy social error, (2) a faux pas, or (3) a blatant mistake or misjudgment. The far less common gaff, without the e, has several definitions related to fishing and sailing, and it also bears the sense a disreputable music hall or theater, which is used primarily in British English. Examples Older people have more trouble detecting social gaffes committed by others, the result of a decline in how they perceive emotions. [Reuters] The Tribal Warrior is a … [Read more...]

Gantlet vs. gauntlet

Gantlet was the original spelling of the word referring to a form of punishment in which people armed with sticks or other weapons arrange themselves in two lines and beat a person forced to run between them. It came from the earlier English word gantlope, which in turn comes from the Swedish gatlopp.1 Gauntlet is an alternative spelling of gantlet, but it also has several definitions of its own, mostly related to gloves. Gantlet was the preferred spelling in early use of the phrase run the … [Read more...]

If you will

If you will, meaning if you will allow me to use this phrase, is a hedge phrase, and it could usually be removed. Writers often use it to apologize for a weak phrase---often a bad metaphor, a corny coinage, or a phrase the writer is reluctant to use. And sometimes it's used when a writer doesn't trust his or her readers to understand a metaphor---for example: A musical chairs with cars, if you will. [Savannah Now] [It] becomes your filing cabinet, if you will, for all those end-of-life … [Read more...]

Incomparable vs. uncomparable

Two or more things that can't be compared with each other are uncomparable. Something that is so good that it is beyond comparison is incomparable. Some dictionaries don't list uncomparable, and your spell check might say it's wrong, but it's a perfectly good, useful word. It fills a role not conventionally filled by incomparable. Examples Today it is cattle grazing on private ranches that preserves 20 million acres of incomparable landscape. [San Francisco Chronicle] With some words the … [Read more...]

Centuries

The first century consisted of the years 1 through 100. Therefore, the second century consisted of 101 through 200, the third century 201 through 300, and so on. That's why the 19th century, for example, consists of the 1800s instead of the 1900s. Centuries aren't normally capitalized. Some publications spell out centuries (e.g., twentieth century), while others use numerals (e.g., 20th century) for centuries after the tenth. It's a matter of preference, so neither is inherently right or … [Read more...]

Quash vs. squash

As a verb, squash means to beat, squeeze, press, or crush something into a flattened mass. As a noun it denotes the family of tendril-bearing plants with leathery rinds and edible fruit, while squash is also racket game played in a closed-walled court with a rubber ball. Quash means (1) to set aside or annul by judicial action, and (2) to suppress forcibly and completely. When squash is used figuratively, its meaning can come very close to quash in the second sense. Examples Squash Once … [Read more...]

Back up vs. backup

The one-word backup works only as an adjective or a noun. When you need a verb, use the two-word phrasal verb back up. For example, when an American football team needs a player to back up their aging quarterback, they might trade for a good backup. Examples Below, backup is a noun in the first and third examples, and it's an adjective in the second: Stopping the vehicle, the deputy detected the odor of marijuana from inside and called for backup. [Ocala] Backup lineman Lennie Friedman … [Read more...]

Habeas corpus

Habeas corpus is a Latin loan phrase meaning, literally, "you shall have the body." In modern usage, habeas corpus refers to the right of a detained individual to be brought before a court or judge to determine whether the imprisonment is legal and justified. Habeas corpus is considered an indispensible right in many modern societies, but it's sometimes suspended under extreme circumstances. For example, Abraham Lincoln famously suspended habeas corpus during the American Civil War so … [Read more...]

Uncomparable adjectives

Uncomparable adjectives describe absolute states or conditions. Modifiers like more and less do not apply to them, and they don't have comparative and superlative forms. Here are some of the most common uncomparable … [Read more...]

Synecdoche

Synecdoche (from Greek, meaning literally simultaneous understanding) is a figure of speech in which one of the following occurs: A part of something is used for the whole (e.g., hands for sailors, Ol' Blue Eyes for Frank Sinatra). A whole is used for a part (e.g., the law for police). A specific is thing is used for a general thing (e.g., John Hancock for signature, Coke for all colas, Wall Street for the financial industry). A non-specific term is used for a specific thing (e.g., the … [Read more...]

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