Whirling dervish

A dervish is a Muslim of particular religious order. They are known for their worship rituals which require the dervish to spin very fast causing his clothing to fan out in a circle. The men wear large circular skirts to capitalize on this effect. To call something a whirling dervish is to say that object or person resembles a spinning top or is wild in its movement. An object can also just be a dervish. The term twirling dervish is technically correct, as a dervish could be described as … [Read more...]

Devil is in the details vs. God is in the detail


The idiom the devil is in the details means that mistakes are usually made in the small details of a project. Usually it is a caution to pay attention to avoid failure. An older, and slightly more common, phrase God is in the detail means that attention paid to small things has big rewards, or that details are important. The devil version of the idiom is a variation on the God phrase, though the exact origin of both is uncertain. Below is an ngram comparing the two. Examples The … [Read more...]


Draconian describes something as very strict or harsh. It comes from the Athenian lawmaker Draco, whose laws were extreme. For example, theft carried the death penalty. Dragonian, on the other hand, refers to dragons. Below is the ngram for draconian, which has been on a steady rise for the past fifty years. Examples They point to Ryan’s case as a miscarriage of justice, the result of an overzealous prosecutor stretching the law and imposing a draconian sentence given Ryan’s … [Read more...]


A dais is a raised platform, used when giving speeches or accepting medals in an awards ceremony. It is pronounced /dā-əs/ (day-is). Commonly misspelled as dias.   Examples Even Mahadevappa's son Sunil Bose sharing the dais with the chief minister and other ministers and his sitting by the side of Chamarajnagar MP Dhurvanarayan left the many in the audience surprised. [Times of India] Morton denied Meares a record sixth Commonwealth Games gold medal and then asked her training … [Read more...]

Dark horse

A dark horse is something or someone that is perceived to be an unlikely winner and does, in fact, succeed, usually in a competition. It should always be spelled as two words, and does not need to be set apart by quotation marks. The term was, unsurprisingly, coined in horse racing when the winner was unknown to the gamblers, sometimes by the design of the jockeys and trainers. It first appeared in print in 1831, but by 1844 it was used in the United States for political candidates who won … [Read more...]

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 deposited, whereas a repository is one where things rest), and indeed both words are widely used to refer to places where things are stored. In uses outside that general sense, though, there 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 word historically doubled as a noun referring to a discomfited state, but discomfiture eventually arose to fill this role and was firmly in place by the 19th century. Discomfort is usually a noun … [Read more...]

Disenfranchise vs. disfranchise


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 true despite the fact that several major dictionaries---including Oxford and American Heritage---still favor the shorter form. Etymology and logic rarely guide English usage, but it is worth noting … [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 differ to or differ than each other, so different from is the only logical construction. But there are problems with the arguments against different to and different than, and the old prejudice … [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 the distinction between the words, and doing so is never wrong (and is probably the safer choice in more formal writing). But the reality is that disinterested has encroached on uninterested's … [Read more...]

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