Sheridan’s 18th century play, The Rivals, featured a hilarious character called Mrs Malaprop, who was apt to drop a verbal clanger whenever she opened her mouth. That’s where we get the word malapropism from, though its real origin is in the French phrase mal à propos, meaning inopportune or not to the purpose. When someone … Read more

Crucial, Vital, Essential

Some words just can’t be qualified, such as unique. Something either is or isn’t unique – that’s all there is to it. Here are a few more words of that type. Crucial Crucial derives from the Latin crux, meaning cross. The word originally meant cross shaped, but took on the meaning of deciding between opposing … Read more

Jane Austen Did Not Write Epics

A recent film on a romantic episode in the life of 18th century novelist Jane Austen (1775-1817) has called forth a lot of commentary on the web. Here’s the blurb that prompted this article: Becoming Jane: Author Jane Austen (Anne Hathaway) eventually became famous for writing epic novels like Pride and Prejudice and Sense and … Read more

Word of the Day: Euphemism

Euphemism (yū’fə-mĭz’əm) is a polite or agreeable word that is used to replace a possibly offensive or harsh one. It can also refer to a word or expression that under estimates the real state of things. But after the September 11th attacks, its Self-Defence Forces (SDF is a euphemism for its armed forces that gets … Read more

Elude vs. Allude vs. Illude

The commonly misused words elude, allusion and illusion share a common root word (Latin ludere: to play), but their meanings aren’t similar at all. Fortunately, recognizing the prefixes can help keep these two words separate in your mind. The Latin prefix e means “out,” so elude originally suggested the end of a game or a … Read more

English Grammar 101: Sentences, Clauses and Phrases

Welcome to English Grammar 101, the newest category on Daily Writing Tips. I thought that creating a series of posts covering the basic grammar rules and parts of speech would be useful to many people, especially if you consider the diversity of our readership. On this first post we’ll cover sentences, clauses and phrases. Sentences … Read more

Do Synonyms Exist?

A synonym is supposed to be any word that means the same as another word. But I don’t think there is any such thing. I don’t believe that kind of synonym exists. Okay, I need to qualify that assertion. Technically, a synonym is “a word or phrase that has a meaning the same as, or … Read more

Are You Sure You Mean “Moot”?

I just caught myself writing “the question is moot” meaning “the question is irrelevant or closed.” I immediately scrapped “moot” for a different adjective. Why? Because I remembered an occasion on which my son, a journalist, ruined the word for me by explaining that I was using it incorrectly. To me a “moot question” was … Read more

Fortuitous vs. Fortunate

It’s easy to mix up fortuitous with fortunate. After all, they both have aspects of luck and chance in their meaning. Fortunate means lucky, derived from the word fortune, which means luck, either good or bad. The Romans thought of fortune as a goddess who could be for you or against you. Fortuitous, on the … Read more

Is There Really Room for Error in Writing?

Writing is a battle. On one side: the force of your important message. On the opposing side: the forces of ignorance and misunderstanding. Your weapons: your words. Your support: the entire tradition of the English language. Calls for more precise writing are often met with complaints of “Aw, do I have to?” That was the … Read more

Deprecate vs. Depreciate

Only one letter separates these two words, but there’s considerable difference in meaning. The word deprecate means to express disapproval of something. A synonym for deprecate in this context is to deplore. Example: He deprecated his sister’s actions. This means that he did not approve of his sister’s actions. The word depreciate means to belittle … Read more

Word of the Day: Trudge

Trudge (trŭj) means to walk slowly, heavily or in a laborious way. It can also be used as a noun, referring to a long or cumbersome walk. As the number of risky mortgage borrowers being turfed out of their homes escalates, so does the rate of Wall Street chief executives trudging dejectedly out of their … Read more