The conjunction lest means (1) for fear that, or (2) in order to avoid. It is followed by something the speaker thinks should be avoided. For example, we might write, "We're going to proofread this twice lest we make errors that hurt our credibility." The clause introduced by lest is usually in the subjunctive mood, but this is not required for writers who aren't comfortable with subjunctive constructions. Examples I won't waste your time responding point-by-point lest I give credence to … [Read more...]


Hara-kiri (Japanese for belly-cutting) is the standard spelling of the word denoting the Japanese method of suicide involving disembowelment, usually self-inflicted, with a sword. Harakiri and harikari are accepted secondary spellings, but hara-kiri is the usual one. Hara-kiri is also known as seppuku. There are some subtle historical differences between the words (seppuku is formal, and hara-kiri is slang), but in English they are synonyms. … [Read more...]

Gaudy vs. gawdy

Gaudy and gawdy are different spellings of the same word. Gaudy is recommended by most dictionaries and usage guides, but gawdy is listed as an accepted variant. In either spelling, the word means (1) showy in a tasteless or vulgar way; or it refers to (2) a festival or raucous party, or (3) a showy ornament. Examples Though gaudy is much more common, it is easy to find instances of gawdy in current news publications---for example: But before all the gawdy reflections in the yuletide mirror … [Read more...]


The conjunction whereas has a number of meanings, but it's most commonly used to mean although or while in contrast. In these senses of whereas, the word is grammatically identical to while or although. That is, it introduces a dependent clause. Whereas often introduces a thought that contrasts with something in the main clause. For example, consider this sentence: Some couples now both have to work, whereas only one person did before. [Washington Post] In this sentence, whereas introduces … [Read more...]

Flier vs. flyer

Outside the U.S., there is no difference between flyer and flier. They are interchangeable, though flyer is about twice as common as flier. American writers tend to use flyer for small handbills and flier for people and things that fly. This distinction does not run deep, though, and the two spellings are very often used interchangeably even in the U.S., so it's safe to say that neither is correct or incorrect for any sense of the word. An earlier version of this post said simply that flier … [Read more...]

Flounder vs. founder

To flounder is (1) to struggle or move with difficulty, as in mud; or (2) to behave awkwardly or make mistakes. One who flounders does not fail completely but merely struggles. To founder is (1) to cave in, (2) to sink below the water, (3) to fail utterly, or (4) to go lame. While to flounder is merely to struggle, foundering usually involves utter failure. Because there are degrees of struggle and failure, and because failure is often the outcome of struggle, flounder and founder often come … [Read more...]

Endemic vs. epidemic

As an adjective, epidemic describes diseases and conditions that spread rapidly and extensively by infection and affect many people at the same time, and it's used figuratively to describe widely prevalent things other than infectious diseases. It also doubles as a noun referring to things that are epidemic. By its scientific definition, epidemic only applies to infectious diseases and not to, say, obesity, beetles, or laptop theft, but such figurative, nonscientific use is common. Endemic, … [Read more...]

Wrong vs. wrongly

Wrong and wrongly are both adverbs, meaning incorrectly, badly, or mistakenly. Usage authorities differ on whether using wrong this way is acceptable, but in real-world usage, the adverbial wrong is not just widely accepted but common. The adverbial wrong always follows the verb it modifies (e.g., he answered wrong). It also follows the object of the verb if there is one (e.g., he answered the question wrong). And wrongly can go either before or after its verb (e.g., he was wrongly imprisoned … [Read more...]

Forbear vs. forebear

To forbear is to refrain, to hold back, or to tolerate in the face of provocation. The word only works as a verb. Its past tense is forbore, and its past participle is forborne. It's usually pronounced for-BEAR. Forebear, meanwhile, is a noun referring to a person from whom one is descended---i.e., an ancestor. It's usually pronounced FOR-bear. For obvious reasons, the two words are often confused. They are easy to keep separate, though, if you remember that a forebear is one who comes … [Read more...]

For the purpose of

The wordy phrase for the purpose of can usually be shortened, often to just one word, usually to. For example, let's shorten this sentence: Commercial shows are one-off projects put on for the purpose of making money. [Chicago Tribune] Here's one alternative: Commercial shows are one-off projects put on to make money. Another example: He says Evite created the ID for the purpose of sharing information with Facebook. [PC World] This might be better: He says Evite created the ID to share … [Read more...]

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