Impervious and Impenetrable

The synonyms impervious and impenetrable have similar meanings, but, depending on context, one is preferable to the other. The words are used both literally and figuratively. Here are their literal meanings: impervious: Through which there is no way; not affording passage (to); not to be passed through or penetrated; impenetrable, impermeable, impassable. impenetrable: That cannot … Read more

Come to Pass

A common English idiom is “come to pass”: to come to pass: to happen, take place in the course of events, come about, occur, be fulfilled. Here are some correct uses of the expression: all things, good and bad, come to pass. It shall come to pass. Don’t give up on your God-given dreams. …it … Read more

Tearing, Ripping, and Rending

English is rich in words to describe the act of cutting and pulling things apart, words like tear, rip, hack, slash, stab, and rend. Writers of violent fiction–or journalists reporting the daily news–can choose just the right word to describe an injury: A taxi driver hacked an American to death after an argument over a … Read more

New Meaning for Ingest

A reader has alerted me to a new use of the verb ingest: Feed is a suite of tools to assist in preparing content for ingest into HathiTrust. I found additional examples of this incomprehensible use of ingest in what are clearly technical contexts: High Speed Smart Data Ingest into Hadoop Fedora digital objects can … Read more

Q in English Words

A convention of English spelling is that the letter q is followed by the letter u. Very few English words omit the u after q. The most common that come to mind are foreign place names like Iraq and Qatar, and made-up words like qwerty, Nasdaq, Compaq and Qantas. In borrowings from languages in which … Read more

Wile vs. While

A reader asks, Are there two ways to write “while away the hours”? I sometimes see it written as “wile away the hours.” My dictionary gives the meaning to both spellings. Which do you recommend? wile Possibly the most common use of wile these days is as a noun qualified by the adjective feminine: Resurrecting … Read more

Anecdote and Anecdotal

The historian Procopius of Caesarea lived during the reign of the Roman emperor Justinian (482-565). His history of the wars of Justinian was published during his lifetime, but another of his works, now referred to as The Secret History, remained unpublished until the manuscript was discovered in the Vatican Library and published in 1623. Although … Read more

Progeny and Other Offspring

A reader asks for clarification: Please tell me under which situation I use the word “progeny” and where to use “offspring”, with examples. English is blessed with numerous words to refer to the product of sexual union; progeny and offspring are only two of them. The gen in progeny, like the gen in genital, goes back … Read more

Pair and Other Words Meaning Two

A reader wonders about the word pair to describe singular objects: A headline from today’s National Post, “The Royal Canadian Navy is looking to buy 180,000 pairs of grey, lightweight underwear,” got me wondering about the use of the word pair when it comes to things like underwear, pants and scissors. Why are clearly singular … Read more

In Regards To

A web search for “in regards to” brings up 680 million links, thousands of which lead to articles telling readers that “in regards to” is nonstandard English. Apparently quite a few English speakers have managed to avoid reading any of them. Nonstandard “in regards to” continues to spread, and not just on blogs and in … Read more

Comma Before But

This reader’s question illustrates the uncertainty felt by many writers about when to use a comma before the conjunction but: In the following sentence, the secondary clause isn’t truly independent; it lacks a subject, yet it conveys an almost-complete thought: “I left Susan a message last week but haven’t heard back from her yet.” My … Read more

Ludicrous vs Ridiculous

I read a celebrity quotation that asserted that a rumor being circulated about her was “ludicrously silly.” The statement struck me as ridiculous. Silly is a synonym for ludicrous; using one to intensify the other is overkill. In recent years, ludicrous has become celebrity-speak for plain old ridiculous. As a result, a subtle difference between … Read more