Depository vs. repository

In its oldest English sense, dating from the 15th century,1 a repository is a place where things are stored, usually for safe keeping. Depository, which entered English a couple of centuries later,2 bears the same meaning (though, considered etymologically, a depository is a place where things are … [Read more...]

Discomfit vs. discomfort

To discomfit is (1) to throw into confusion, perplex, or embarrass; or (2) to thwart or defeat, especially in military conflict. The second sense is the original---and a handful of people insist that it is still the only correct use---but the first is more common today and is rarely questioned. The … [Read more...]

Disenfranchise vs. disfranchise

disenfranchised-disfranchised-english-1908-2008

Disfranchise and disenfranchise mean the same: to deprive of rights or privileges. Disfranchise is the traditional form, but it has given way to disenfranchise over the last several decades, and the latter now prevails by a large margin. This is the case in all main varieties of English, and it is … [Read more...]

Different from, different than, different to

Short answer: Different to and different than are perfectly fine, but some people consider them wrong, so different from is the safest choice. Some careful English speakers consider different to and different than problematic. The argument is that things differ from each other, and they don't … [Read more...]

Disinterested vs. uninterested

Disinterested traditionally means having no stake in the matter. For example, when you are arguing with someone, you might bring in a disinterested third person to help settle the issue fairly. Uninterested traditionally means not engaged, bored, or unconcerned. Many careful writers still observe … [Read more...]

Dribs and drabs

The idiom meaning small sporadic amounts or little by little is dribs and drabs, not drips and drabs---though the latter does make logical sense. In the 19th century, when the original idiom was first recorded, both drib and drab meant a small quantity or amount. Drib has fallen out of use (except … [Read more...]

Distinct vs. distinctive

Something that is distinct is (1) easily distinguishable from other things, (2) discrete, or (3) easy to see. Something that is distinctive is an identifying or unique feature of something else—for example, the distinctive leaves of the oak tree, or the distinctive voice of Bob Dylan. This is the … [Read more...]

Disassemble vs. dissemble

Most English speakers can correctly infer from the negative prefix dis- that disassemble means the opposite of assemble. Dissemble is trickier because it sort of sounds like it should mean the opposite of assemble, but it actually means (1) to disguise (either oneself or something else) behind a … [Read more...]

Demur vs. demure

Demur is primarily a verb meaning (1) to object, or (2) to hesitate because of doubt. Some dictionaries also list it as a noun referring to the act of demurring, but the word usually gives way to demurral for this sense. Demure means (1) modest and reserved, or (2) affectedly shy. It is only an … [Read more...]

Davy Jones’s locker

The idiom Davy Jones's locker refers to the bottom of the sea, particularly in reference to death at sea. For example, if I say, "My brother went to Davy Jones's locker," you could conclude that my brother died at sea. The origins of Davy Jones's locker are mysterious, but there are many … [Read more...]

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