flaunt, flout

By RICHARD H. PARKE The two words can appear the same to some of us. They’re not. Flaunt means to display proudly or ostentatiously. Flout is to disobey openly and, most importantly, scornfully. We flaunt our ignorance if we flout established grammatical principles.    

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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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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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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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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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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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