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Ordinance vs. ordnance

An ordinance is a municipal or county law. Ordnance is a mass noun referring to military materials such as weapons, ammunition, equipment, and vehicles. Although ordinance and ordnance now share no definitions, they both come from the Middle English ordinaunce, meaning to set in order. A third word, ordonnance, which still appears occassionally, began as a variant of ordinance but has since taken a meaning of its own---namely, the arrangement of parts in a building, picture, or literary … [Read more...]

Shat vs. shitted

Shat is the widely accepted past-tense inflection of shit. It was formed by analogy with the verb sit, which becomes sat in the past tense. It was originally a humorous and slightly sanitized version of the curse word, but it has become the standard form. There are two alternatives: (1) shitted, which appears about once for every instance of shat; and (2) shit, uninflected in the past tense. The second option likens the word to verbs like fit and knit, which are usually uninflected in most … [Read more...]

Baloney vs. bologna

Bologna refers to a type of sausage made of finely ground meat that has been cooked and smoked. Baloney is nonsense. It is an early 20th-century American coinage derived from bologna. It may also be influenced by blarney, which in one of its definitions means nonsense or deceptive talk. Our reference sources differ on whether baloney and bologna are homophones in English. Some say both should be pronounced "baloney," while others say bologna should be pronounced like the Italian city, Bologna … [Read more...]

French partitive article

When referring to a noun whose quantity or amount is not specified, French speakers use the partitive article de, which conveys essentially the same meaning as some or any in English. For example, rather than saying the equivalent of I bought cheese, French speakers always say, I bought some cheese. Rather than saying, Do you have pets? they always say, Do you have some pets? This rule cannot be ignored. If you ask for the cheese or just cheese without the partitive article, French speakers … [Read more...]

Boughten

Boughten is an archaic participial inflection of the verb to buy. It was once a fairly common colloquial form---it was used to describe something bought instead of homemade---and it still appears occasionally, but it is widely seen as incorrect and might be considered out of place in formal writing. This does not mean that those who use it in their speech are ignorant or poorly informed. For instance, the word appears in these old works of literature: But I interrupted him by telling him … [Read more...]

For all intensive purposes (for all intents and purposes)

For all intents and purposes is the usual form of the phrase meaning in every practical sense. For all intensive purposes is a fairly common eggcorn derived from the original phrase. It's often heard in speech, but it's rare in published writing because it generally doesn't pass through the editorial process. Examples Although for all intensive purposes doesn't make much sense, examples such as these are not hard to find: It was a questionable call in the 81st minute that for all intensive … [Read more...]

Terza rima

Terza rima is a poetic form consisting of tercets connected by an interlinking rhyme scheme in which the second line of one stanza rhymes with the first and third lines of the following stanza---aba bcb cdc ded efe, etc. The form, which was introduced by Dante in his La Divina Commedia, originally ended with a single line rhyming with the second line of the preceding stanza, but over the centuries poets have used different endings. Terza rima creates a strong sense of forward momentum … [Read more...]

Split infinitives

Contrary to what some grammarians say, there is no rule against using split infinitives in English. One might use them with care, but splitting an infinitive is sometimes the best way to clearly express a thought. What are split infinitives? An infinitive is the uninflected form of a verb along with to---for example, to walk, to inflect, to split. A split infinitive is created by placing an adverb or adverbial phrase between the to and the verb---for example, to boldly go, to casually walk, to … [Read more...]

Dog-eat-dog

Dog-eat-dog is an idiomatic adjective meaning ruthless or competitive. Doggy dog, when used in the phrase doggy-dog world, is an eggcorn resulting from a mishearing of dog-eat-dog. Examples Business is business, and Hollywood is as dog-eat-dog as every other industry. [Reel Loop] We are locked in the hermetic, dog-eat-dog world of the court, where every smile is false. [Guardian] They think they can do anything they want, that it's a dog-eat-dog market and all these sophisticated buyers … [Read more...]

Participial prepositions

A participial preposition is a participle (an -ed or -ing verb) that functions as a preposition. Some of the most common examples are assuming, barring, considering, during, given, notwithstanding, provided, regarding, and respected. Unlike other participles, participial prepositions don't necessarily create dangling modifiers when they don't correspond to a subject. So, to take a counterexample, consider the following sentence: Sitting on the porch, it started to get cold. Here … [Read more...]

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