read, peruse

By LAWRENCE FELLOWS To read has many meanings, one of which is to get the drift of a message by interpreting written or printed words. Its roots are in the Old English raedan, which was the word used for figuring out the mystic sense of runes scratched in the sand or on crude boards. The word […]

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accessory, accomplice

By LAWRENCE FELLOWS An accessory assists in an illegal act, although he need not be at the scene of the crime. He can be an accessory before the fact if he helps plan or set up the crime, or he can be an accessory after the fact, if, say, he helps the culprit get away. […]

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fetch, fetching

  By LAWRENCE FELLOWS To fetch is to go after something and bring it back. Fetching is not quite the same word, although both come to us from variations of the Old English fetian and faet, for “step” and “foot.” Fetching used to mean contriving or crafty. It’s not too far-fetched to accept that fetching, […]

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if, whether

By LAWRENCE FELLOWS If  you are not sure in court whether to use if  or whether, you have plenty of company. But there are slight differences. If  only some doubt or a general possibility is being considered, then if  is better. If  there are choices, whether is better. If  you knew how the judge would […]

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allocate, allot

By LAWRENCE FELLOWS To allocate something is to set it aside for a specific purpose. You can be allocated a parking space. To allot something is to give it, but with an understanding that it is being shared. If you are allotted five minutes to make a speech, you’re probably having to share the time […]

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admittance, admission

By LAWRENCE FELLOWS These words are similar, but not synonymous. Admittance refers to gaining entry to a place, while admission may refer to a right or privilege of entering. Thus, you may gain admittance to the Lotos Club as a guest, but not admission as a member. Admission may also be used figuratively in, say, […]

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adopt, adapt, adept

By LAWRENCE FELLOWS You can adopt a position, an amendment or a child, which means you choose it, embrace it or espouse it, or take it as your own. You can adapt yourself or something else to a particular situation by adjusting to it. An adept person is skilled or proficient, the sort who can […]

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muff

  By HOWARD MUNCE A muff  is a tube made of fur or other warm material designed to slip both hands into for warmth. Another kind of muff  is a botched catch where the ball player drops the ball, possibly because his hands are cold. In which case a fur muff  might have been more […]

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reckless, feckless

By WILLIAM ALEXANDER When you’re faced with a tough decision, should you be reckless or feckless? The correct course of action may be neither. When you’re reckless, you lack proper caution and are careless of consequences. To be feckless, on the other hand, makes you weak, ineffective, spiritless. It can also mean you’re thoughtless and […]

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ovine, bovine

    By RUSSELL SHADDOX Don’t get too sheepish if you’re cowed by the difference between ovine and bovine. Ovine means of or pertaining to a sheep. Bovine means of or pertaining to an ox or cow. Other domesticated animals have corresponding adjectives too, such as pigs (porcine) and horses (equine) – but let’s not […]

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