Quick entries: M

  • Note: Many of the entries here will eventually become full-length posts. Some are rough and have not been fully researched. If you have any corrections or would like to add anything, please comment.


    Machiavellian: marked by cunning trickery, especially in politics or government.

    Machine gun vs. machinegun: machine gun is two words as a noun phrase; machinegun is the verb for to shoot with a machine gun.

    Make pretend: make it pretend or make believe.

    Make up vs. makeup: make up is the verb; makeup is a noun and an adjective.

    Manmade: One word. Unlike other words that can be seen as sexist, it has not been expunged from the language. It still appears in all sorts of edited writing.

    Matrix: Matrices is by far the more common plural, but matrixes is an accepted form.

    Maximise vs. maximize: U.S. and Canada: maximize, maximized, maximizing, maximization, etc. Outside North America: maximise, maximised, maximising, maximisation, etc.

    May vs. might: Traditionalists still try to draw distinctions, but it’s a lost cause. May and might are effectively the same in modern usage, except where may means to have permission to.

    Mayhap: archaism meaning the same as perhaps.

    McJob: a low-paying job requiring little skill or training, providing little stimulation, and offering no prospect of advancement.

    Memoranda vs. memorandums: There’s nothing wrong with the English plural, but the Latin plural is conventional and more common.

    Methodology: Where it doesn’t mean either a set of working methods or the study of working methodsmethodology usually bears replacement with the shorter and less pretentious-sounding method.

    Micro- vs. macro-: Micro-: small. Macro-: large.


    Midafternoon, midday, midmorning: one word, like the unquestioned midnight.

    Militate vs. mitigate: Militate, usually followed by against, means to influence or to bring about a changeMitigate means to alleviate or to become milder, and it does not take any helper words such as against.

    Millennia vs. millenniums: The Latin plural, millennia, is more common, but the English plural, millenniums, is perfectly good if you like it better.

    Minimise vs. minimize: U.S. and Canada: minimize, minimized, minimizing, minimization, etc. Outside North America: minimise, minimised, minimising, minimisation, etc.

    Minks vs minx: Minks is the plural of mink, which refers to a group of weasel-like carnivores that are native to North America and are known for their lustrous fur. A minx is a flirtatious, impudent, or promiscuous young woman. There is sexism embedded in the word, so 21st-century writers should use it carefully if at all.

    Mishmash: The noun meaning a collection of varied things is mishmash—one word.

    Moat vs. mote: A moat is a ditch around a fortified town or castle. A mote is a small grain or particle of something.

    Mobilise vs. mobilize: In the U.S. and Canada, it’s mobilizemobilizedmobilizingmobilization, etc. Outside North America, it’s mobilise, mobilised, mobilising, mobilisation, etc.

    Monied vs. moneyed: There is no difference between them. Both are used throughout the English-speaking world.

    Moose: The plural of moose is usually moose (i.e., it’s unchanged)Mooses appears occasionally, but some readers might consider it incorrect.

    Moribund: approaching death or nearly obsolete. Not related to morbid.

    Mouthful: The plural is mouthfuls. Five mouths full denotes five different mouths that are full.

    More power to you: similar to good for you. Like that phrase, more power to you is sometimes facetious or dismissive. It dates from the early 20th century, but its exact origins are mysterious.

    Must needs: Needs was once an adverb meaning of necessity or unavoidably. So when you encounter the awkward and archaic-sounding phrase must needs, think of it as meaning must of necessity or just must (as must already denotes necessity).

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