avenge, revenge

By LAWRENCE FELLOWS To avenge is to vindicate, to take vengeance on someone who has caused an injury or committed a wrong. It is generally used in the sense of achieving justice, or making the culprit suffer something more or less equivalent to his offense, whereas revenge is the satisfying of the offended party’s resentment, […]

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chair, chairman

By LAWRENCE FELLOWS Chair was once a perfectly good word, meaning a seat with a back and sometimes with arms. It was a thing to be sat on, and sometimes where a person with authority sat, that is, a place from which the person in the chair (the chairman) would conduct a meeting. Although chairman […]

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accord, award, kudos

To accord is to render an honor, and implies a spontaneous bestowal “prompted by the dictates of the heart,” as Frank Vizetelly put it in his famous “A Desk-Book of Errors in English” 110 years ago. The word comes from the Latin, cor, for heart. An award implies a grant that is given after careful […]

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crisis, crises

By LAWRENCE FELLOWS A crisis is a turning point, a moment of danger or suspense. Crises is the plural of crisis, which, to judge from the newspapers, you might believe to be a useful word in these troubled times. But crisis is also an overworked word. Not every miserable situation in the world is a […]

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waist, waste

By LAWRENCE FELLOWS You may think that what you see in the mirror these days is more waste than waist. But there is no waste in the sense of something lost or diminished, apart from your figure. The words have the same Teutonic roots, as does wax, which means “to grow.” The waist is so named […]

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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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voyeur, voyageur

By LAWRENCE FELLOWS A voyeur is a peeping tom, a person who derives satisfaction from secretly watching others, especially when they are doing something that is nobody else’s business. A voyageur is a traveler. In Canada, he is a woodsman or boatman who takes supplies from trading posts to trappers in the backwoods, and returns […]

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custom, habit

By LAWRENCE FELLOWS A custom is a social convention, whether that be a style of dress or an established way of behavior typical of a social group or a country or a particular period of time. While a custom is followed by a whole group, a habit is acquired by an individual, whether voluntarily or […]

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arbiter, arbitrator, mediator

  By DICK CAVELLI The three titles are often used interchangeably by the media, but there are clear differences among them. The arbiter, for example, is a chosen or appointed judge or umpire; an absolute and final judge. An arbitrator is a person chosen by agreement of parties to decide a dispute between them, and […]

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peak, peek, pique

By LAWRENCE FELLOWS A peak is a high point. For a dog, it could be a pat on the head or a steak bone after dinner. In Shakespeare’s time, peak could also mean to waste away, as in “Macbeth:” …dwindle, peak and pine. A peek is a brief or furtive look, a look like one […]

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