Foolproof vs. full-proof

The adjective foolproof means infallible or, more literally, impervious to the incompetence of fools. Just as a bulletproof vest makes one invulnerable to bullets, a foolproof plan is designed to be invulnerable to fools. Foolproof is usually one word, without a hyphen (though the hyphenated form, fool-proof, is not uncommon). The word is occasionally misspelled full-proof. There are arguments to be made in favor of this spelling (see the comments below for a couple of them), and of course … [Read more...]


Seldomly is an unnecessary variant of seldom. Seldom is already an adverb, so adding the adverbial -ly doesn't change its meaning. Using seldomly is not a serious error, however. Your spell check probably catches it, and most major dictionaries either don't list the word or list it as obsolete, yet to many English speakers, seldom without the -ly just doesn't feel right in certain situations (a similar effect is seen with thusly, an unnecessary variant of the adverb thus). If you are an English … [Read more...]


The interjection alas expresses grief or regret resulting from something described. It's essentially an archaic way of saying, "Oh no!" so it should always be associated with something negative. For modern writers, it is difficult to use alas without creating an ironic or pretentious tone, but the word is not as far gone as many similar archaisms, and it still appears somewhat often. Examples Alas works well in these sentences because it is followed by something the writer finds … [Read more...]


Thusly is a superfluous word. Because thus is an adverb in its own right, the adverbial -ly adds nothing. This doesn't mean that thusly is wrong, however, and there are contexts in which many English-speakers find it simply sounds better than thus, especially where it introduces quotes or lists. Examples Thus could replace thusly in each of these sentences: Cliff thusly became the first pitcher since Deacon Phillippe to walk no one and strike out ten men in a complete game World Series … [Read more...]

Beckon call

The phrase at [one's] beckon call is an eggcorn derived from a mishearing of the at [one's] beck and call, which means freely available or ready to comply. The mistaken phrase is sort of understandable because someone who is at your beck and call is ready to be beckoned. Still, attentive readers are liable to see beckon call as wrong. Examples For example, a more careful editor could have saved these writers a little embarrassment: The cast is rounded out by Selznick's secretary Miss … [Read more...]


In poetry, catachresis is the misapplication of a word or phrase to create a (usually) deliberately strained figure or a mixed metaphor. In nonpoetic writing and speech catachresis is often problematic, but poets have used it to achieve great compression and rhetorical energy in both serious and comic verse. Here are two famous examples of catachresis: 'Tis deepest winter in Lord Timon's purse. (Shakespeare, Timon of Athens) Blind mouths! (Milton, Lycidas) … [Read more...]

Apostrophe (poetry)

In poetry, an apostrophe is a figure of speech in which the poet addresses an absent person, an abstract idea, or a thing. Apostrophes are found throughout poetry, but they're less common since the early 20th century. Poets may apostrophize a beloved, the Muse, God, love, time, or any other entity that can't respond in reality. The word O is often used to signal such an invocation. Some examples: When will you ever, Peace, wild wooddove, shy wings shut, Your round me roaming end, and … [Read more...]


Imagism was a short-lived school of poetry that emphasized clarity and precision and rejected verbiage and sentiment. At the center of the movement was Ezra Pound, who was influenced in his thinking by a group of London poets and philosophers, among them T.E. Hulme, whose essay, "Romanticism and Classicism," was seminal to the movement. In his essay, Hulme foretells a classical revival in poetry. Rejecting Romanticism---which he argues is based upon the mistaken idea that a human is "an … [Read more...]

Close rhyme

A close rhyme consists of two rhyming words that are consecutive or very close together in a phrase or line. Many common expressions are close rhymed---for example, wear and tear, high and dry, double trouble, clip-clop, mumbo jumbo. Here are a few examples of close rhyme in poetry: tingling strings clouds strew flowers round listener, who listens … [Read more...]


In Medieval Britain and Ireland, a bard was a professional poet who praised (and sometimes satirized) the ruler of the land. Both the word and the profession have origins in Celtic Europe. Traditionally, Welsh and Irish bards treated poetry as a craft to be learned and mastered. Young poets were sometimes apprenticed to experienced bards, and there were bardic schools where students were extensively trained in the knowledge and skills of the craft. The bardic revival of the 18th and 19th … [Read more...]

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