masterful, masterly

By WILLIAM ALEXANDER I always thought that these two words could be used more or less interchangeably. Not so, as the following definitions indicate: Masterful – imperious, commanding, strong-willed, domineering. Masterly – skillful, expert, practiced. Toscanini, the great conductor, was masterful in his attitude, but he was never satisfied with less than a masterly performance […]

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limpid, languid

By LAWRENCE FELLOWS Limpid, despite what some people think, has nothing to do with limp. In fact it means clear or lucid, as in limpid eyes or a limpid style of writing. You can see clear to the bottom of a limpid pool. Languid means apathetic or dull, as in languid spirits, or a languid […]

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winning, winsome

A winsome person is charming and pleasant, maybe even a bit lighthearted. We’re more likely to speak about a winsome woman, especially if the woman is capturing the heart of a man. Winning often describes one aspect of a person: a winning manner, or a winning smile. A team can be a winning one, but […]

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abstract, abstraction

By LAWRENCE FELLOWS If you thought someone had spilled paint on the wall, you may have been looking at an abstraction, or an example of abstract expressionism, or a treatment of an abstract or highly subjective motif, not an abstract. An abstract is a summary of the main points of a complicated document, such as […]

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credible, creditable, credulous

By LAWRENCE FELLOWS If you want your newspaper to stay creditable in an election campaign, you’re expecting a lot. Creditable means deserving of praise. Who feels like praising a newspaper in the heat of an election campaign? Credible, however, means worthy of belief, and that’s enough to make a newspaper a force in any election. […]

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imperial, imperious

By LAWRENCE FELLOWS An imperial person is an emperor or an empress, or behaves like one. Imperious means dictatorial, domineering, bossy. You don’t have to be an emperor to have an imperial manner. Neither do you have to be an emperor to be imperious, but sometimes it helps.

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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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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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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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