The noun aegis, usually embedded in the phrase under the aegis of, means protection, auspices, or sponsorship. It comes from the Ancient Greek aigis, which denoted a shield or armor made from the skin of a goat. So when a Greek poet wrote that a hero was under the aegis of the gods, this meant the hero was under divine protection. Examples The Office of Unclaimed Funds, under the aegis of the state comptroller, had set up a table at the Hilton. [New York Times] Providing aid to Greece and … [Read more...]

Directional words

-ward vs. -wards In American English, the preferred suffix is -ward---for example, westward, forward, backward, downward. Outside American English, -wards is preferred---so, westwards, forwards, backwards, and downwards. But it's not a clean distinction, and both suffixes are used everywhere. The -ward suffix may be placed at the end of any noun without requiring a hyphen. Spell check may catch words like cityward, mountainward, oceanward, or workward, but that shouldn't stop us from using … [Read more...]

Sight vs. site

A site is (1) a place where something is located, or (2) a website. While site has few definitions, sight has many, including (1) the ability to see; (2) one's field of vision; (3) something seen; (4) a place or thing worth seeing; and (5) the part of a firearm used to aim. It appears in the common phrases set one's sights, out of sight, sight unseen, and sight for sore eyes. Examples A woman's skeleton found at a building site in Manchester city centre may have lain undiscovered for up to 50 … [Read more...]

Bait vs. bate

The archaic verb bate, meaning to lessen the intensity of, rarely appears in modern English outside the phrase bated breath. So unless you're using bated breath, the word you're looking for is probably bait, which has several meanings, including (1) something used as a lure, (2) to lure or entice, and (3) to taunt or ridicule. Baited breath is a misspelling. Most often, bait means a lure used to hook or trap an animal, a sense often employed metaphorically---for example: So when the news hit … [Read more...]

Axel vs. axle

An axel is a figure-skating jump named after the Norwegian skater Axel Paulsen (1855-1938). It does not need to be capitalized. An axle is a rounded shaft or rod that connects two wheels. Coincidentally, this word's origins are also Norwegian; it comes from the Old Norse öxull. Examples My 10 year-old daughter, a competitive figure skater, recently learned to execute an axel. [Ricochet] With less mass over the front axle, the new Falcon should also change direction more … [Read more...]

To wit

The phrase to wit, meaning namely or that is to say, is primarily used in legal texts and speech, though it sometimes spills over into other types of writing. In general, unless you're going for a formal tone, to wit bears replacement with one of the many alternatives, such as namely, specifically, in other words, more precisely, or to clarify. Here's an example of to wit used in a legal context: The indictment charged that Broadnax "did knowingly possess, in and affecting interstate … [Read more...]

Could care less

When people say I could care less, they usually mean they actually could not care less, or, more precisely, that they don't care. Considered logically, being able to care less means one does care to some degree, while being unable to care less means one cares very little if at all. Could care less is seldom heard outside the United States, and commentators from outside North America tend to express bafflement over its existence, but it is so common in the U.S. that it is now a widely … [Read more...]


As a colloquial synonym of anywhere, anyplace might be considered out of place in formal writing, and the word is not an accepted replacement for the two-word phrase any place, where any is an adjective modifying the noun place. This may someday change, however, and already we find several instances of the one-word anyplace used in normally well-edited publications. Examples So far, the one word anyplace appears most often in American publications such as these: California is home to people … [Read more...]

And yet

When you find yourself using the phrase and yet, consider whether any meaning would be lost if and were dropped. When yet is used as a conjunction, and yet is redundant, and and could usually be cut. For example, and serves no purpose in this sentence: The numbers do offer a sobering picture, and yet it's far from all gloom and doom. And yet is commonly used to start sentences. In some cases, the usage comes from unfounded bias against using yet to start a sentence. And yet no one would bet … [Read more...]

Bridle vs. bridal

When we're talking about horses, harnesses, restraints, or horse trails (i.e., bridle trails), the word is bridle. Its origins are in the Old English word bregdan, meaning to braid.  When we're talking about a woman who is getting married (i.e., a bride), the word is bridal. This word comes from the Middle English noun bridale, meaning wedding.  Examples Some clues that horses might be having dental problems include loss of feed from the mouth, lugging on the bridle, head tilting or … [Read more...]

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