Confused Words Exercise (206)

In each sentence, choose the correct word from the pair of similar terms. (If both words possibly can be correct, choose the more plausible one.)

  • That smoke pouring from that factory chimney makes the whole town ______ of sulphur.

  • With unbelievable ______, the woman mounted the table and addressed the crowd.

  • Martha and her committee worked like _____ to make the church fête a success.

  • Everyone agreed that the man had behaved like an ______ rascal.

  • Elisha assumed the _____ of Elijah.

Answers and Explanations

1. That smoke pouring from that factory chimney makes the whole town reek of sulphur.

Reek usually means "to give off an offensive smell"; it can also mean "to emit smoke." The verb wreak means "to give vent to or to punish." A storm is said to wreak damage.

2. With unbelievable temerity, the woman mounted the table and addressed the crowd.

Temerity is excessive boldness. Timidity is just the opposite: lack of courage, confidence, or assertiveness.

3. Martha and her committee worked like troupers to make the church fête a success.

Both words, trooper and trouper, come from the same source, but a trooper is a member of a military unit, while a trouper is a member of a group of actors. In figurative use, trooper is associated with courage, while trouper is used to indicate a reliable, uncomplaining person.

4. Everyone agreed that the man had behaved like an arrant rascal.

Both words originally meant "traveling." Errant has kept the meaning of "traveling," as in "a knight errant," a knight who travels around looking for adventure. By extension, anything that goes out of its expected way can be referred to as errant: "an errant fire hose knocked over an onlooker." Arrant became associated with highwaymen and other bad people who traveled about looking to do harm and has come to mean "notorious."

5. Elisha assumed the mantle of Elijah.

A mantle is a garment, like a cloak. Figuratively, it means "a duty or position of responsibility, authority, leadership assumed or inherited by one person from another." A mantel is an ornamental structure of wood, marble, or other material above and around a fireplace.

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