Gaol vs. jail

Gaol is an obsolescent spelling of the word now usually spelled jail. Other than the spelling, there is no difference between the words. Gaol was common outside North American until fairly recently (it was stamped out of American English in the early 19th century, and dropped out of Canadian use about a century later), but it underwent a steady decline through the 20th century and now appears only rarely. Its most common use today is in the names of jails, but it is still possible to find a few … [Read more...]

Bus stop vs. busstop

The word for a place where buses pick up and drop off passengers is conventionally spelled as two words---bus stop. Some similar phrases fuse into compounds (e.g., stoplight, snowman, headstone), but bus stop has never gone this route, perhaps because the two s's would be awkward. For now, busstop is considered a misspelling. Examples Then the grandma from our hotel kindly shows us how to get to the bus stop. [Washington Post] Meanwhile the group will be selling local vegetable bags at the … [Read more...]

Online vs. on-line

Although a few stodgy editors and style guides still recommend the 1990s-style on-line (with a hyphen) for the computing-related adjective, the trajectory of the language favors online. The latter is now considered acceptable by most dictionaries and English usage guides, and most major publications have changed with the times. Perhaps more important, online is far more common in popular usage. Of course, on line is two words when it functions as an adjective phrase with on modifying the noun … [Read more...]

Sceptic vs. skeptic

In most of their senses, there is no difference between skeptic and sceptic. Skeptic is the preferred spelling in American and Canadian English, and sceptic is preferred in the main varieties of English from outside North America. This extends to all derivatives, including sceptical/skeptical and scepticism/skepticism. There is an exception, though: In reference to some 21st-century strains of scientific skepticism, writers and publications from outside North America often use the spellings with … [Read more...]

Proof by example

The proof by example fallacy involves attempting to derive general conclusions from one or a few examples. In its simplest form, proof by example works like this: X, which is in the group G, has the property A. Therefore, all things in the group G have the property A. Or, to give an extreme example, consider this illogical argument: A car with Ohio license plates almost ran over me me. Therefore, people from Ohio are terrible drivers. Such specious arguments may be the bread and butter of … [Read more...]

Cyclist vs. biker

A cyclist (or bicyclist) is someone who rides a bicycle. A biker is someone who rides a motorcycle. These terms are an ongoing subject of controversy, especially in cyclist circles. But it's best to refer to groups of people as they refer to themselves. Cyclists generally call themselves cyclists, and bikers call themselves bikers. This is the case in the U.S., at least. Examples Devoted cyclists like to brag that they will bike anywhere in San Francisco, regardless of daunting hills and … [Read more...]

Fearful vs. fearsome

To be fearful is (1) to be frightened, or (2) to be inclined to anxiety or fear. The word also works as a colloquial adjective meaning to an extreme degree. To be fearsome is to cause fear or to be capable of causing fear. Things that are fearsome make us fearful. Examples Tens of thousands of people have turned out for the demonstrations despite still being fearful of the notoriously brutal secret police. [Sky News] They have a fearsome reputation as bloodthirsty limb-biters with a taste … [Read more...]

Stanch vs. staunch

Some dictionaries accept stanch and staunch as variant spellings of each other. But if you want to avoid confusion, use stanch as the verb meaning to stop the flow of, check, allay; and use staunch as the adjective meaning firm and steadfast or having a strong constitution. This is how the words are usually treated in edited books and news sources. Examples The push for P.E. is part of the effort to stanch the epidemic of childhood obesity. [Daily Press] Santorum is a favorite of … [Read more...]

That vs. which

That and which are technically interchangeable in many contexts, but there are unwritten rules that tend to guide their use. The two main unwritten rules are: first, if you can use that, it's usually better than which. Second, when you use which, it should follow a comma. These are not unbreakable rules, though, and exceptions abound. Restrictive and nonrestrictive clauses That is generally more useful for introducing restrictive clauses (clauses that give essential information about the … [Read more...]

Poisoning the well

The fallacy known as poisoning the well involves presenting negative information about an opponent to preemptively discredit what he or she says. For example, let's say the president is running for reelection, and her primary opponent is an up-and-coming politician whom few in the public have heard of. Ahead of a televised debate, the president might poison the well by running negative campaign ads that highlight her opponents' past transgressions or supposed moral failures so that viewers … [Read more...]

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