12 Idioms Commonly Seen with Homonymic Spelling Errors

As, in time, idiomatic phrases become more isolated from their literal origins, writers are more likely to erroneously substitute a homonym (a word that sounds like another but is spelled differently and has a different meaning) for one of the words in the phrase. This post lists idioms that frequently appear with homonymic mistakes. 1. … Read more

The Diversity of Over- and Under- Compounds

Becoming familiar (or more familiar) with words beginning with over– and under– must include taking into account that these compounds can be both literal and figurative (or only figurative but rarely only literal) and can serve as various parts of speech. This post discusses some examples. Overboard has a literal meaning, referring to someone or … Read more

Nominalization and Conversion

Every field of endeavor has its vocabulary, and the business world, for better or worse, has contributed significantly to the English language with jargon—an insider language that often obfuscates when it should clarify and complicates when it should simplify. This post discusses two categories of such word adaptation. Nominalization is morphological change though suffixation—the creation … Read more

The Complexity of Compounds

A site visitor asked about the correct usage of a word used to describe meetings held in a face-to-face format rather than in a classroom-seating orientation. Is such a gathering a round table, or a roundtable? When describing a piece of furniture with a circular surface, we write “round table.” But as often occurs when … Read more

Noise Canceling or Noise-Canceling?

An advertisement for “Noise Cancelling” headphones prompts this post about how easily the vagaries of spelling and punctuation complicate the simple act of describing something in writing. Which of the following descriptions is correctly spelled and styled? a. noise canceling headphones b. noise-canceling headphones c. noise cancelling headphones d. noise-cancelling headphones An online search will … Read more

Formal Fused Words

Inasmuch as it pains me to say it, notwithstanding my affection for fused words, nevertheless, I encourage readers to use some of the words listed hereinafter sparingly and others not at all. Evolution of the English language includes a process called univerbation (yes, that’s really a word), the combination of a fixed expression of two … Read more

Words Ending in “-ly” Aren’t Always Adverbs

Ask anyone to name a distinguishing characteristic of an adverb, and the reply might be that such a word ends with -ly. Although that is often true, some adverbs, such as fast, lack the ending. For this reason, they are known as flat adverbs. In addition, many words ending in -ly aren’t adverbs. Many adjectives … Read more

Mankind vs. Humankind

The issue of gender-neutral language reemerged recently in the form of a publicized incident involving a college student who was (mildly) penalized for the use of the term mankind in a paper she wrote for a class. Why was the score on her assignment lowered by one point out of fifty? The course’s professor had … Read more

Email vs. E-mail

Once upon a time, one could speak or write about such media as books and mail, or use such terms as business and commerce, and your audience would immediately understand what you were referring to. But then, toward the end of the twentieth century, came a revolution in how humans conduct social behavior, academic pursuits, … Read more

Hyphenation Rules for 35 Prefixes (and 1 Suffix)

There was a time when prefixes were routinely attached to root words with hyphens, but that time has, for the most part, passed. Now, hyphens are the exception, as detailed in the following list, which also provides simple definitions. ante (before): closed anti (against): closed except before a proper noun or a word starting with … Read more

The Suffix -strophe

Do the words apostrophe and catastrophe have anything in common besides a couple of syllables? What, if anything, does a punctuation mark have to do with a disaster? The words, taken from Greek, share an element derived from the Greek verb strephein, which means “turn.” Apostrophe, meaning “turn from,” alludes to the fact that an … Read more

What’s the Relationship Between “Ship” and “-ship”?

Is there any connection between the nautical term ship and the prefix -ship? As it turns out, the word and the prefix may share an ancient ancestry. The word ship is descended from the Old English term scip (pronounced the same as ship), meaning “ship” or “boat.” Its origin is obscure but may stem from … Read more