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20 Word Usage Mistakes Even Smart People Make

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English vocabulary is full of pitfalls that you might not be aware of. Don't let them trip you up.

1. INVARIABLY

If something happens invariably, it always happens. To be invariable is to never vary. The word is sometimes used to mean frequently, which has more leeway.

2. COMPRISE/COMPOSE

A whole comprises its parts. The alphabet comprises 26 letters. The U.S. comprises 50 states. But people tend to say is comprised of when they mean comprise. If your instinct is to use the is … of version, then substitute composed. The whole is composed of its parts.

3. FREE REIN

The words rein and reign are commonly confused. Reign is a period of power or authority—kings and queens reign—and a good way to remember it is to note that the g relates it to royal words like regent and regal. A rein is a strap used to control a horse. The confusion comes in when the control of a horse is used as a metaphor for limits on power or authority. Free rein comes from such a metaphor. If you have free rein you can do what you want because no one is tightening the reins.

4. JUST DESERTS

There is only one s in the desert of just deserts. It is not the dessert of after-dinner treats nor the dry and sandy desert. It comes from an old noun form of the verb deserve. A desert is a thing which is deserved.

5. TORTUOUS/TORTUROUS

Tortuous is not the same as torturous. Something that is tortuous has many twists and turns, like a winding road or a complicated argument. It’s just a description. It makes no judgment on what the experience of following that road or argument is like. Torturous, on the other hand, is a harsh judgment—“It was torture!”

6. EFFECT/AFFECT

When you want to talk about the influence of one thing on another, effect is the noun and affect is the verb. Weather affects crop yields. Weather has an effect on crop yields. Basically, if you can put a the or an in front of it, use effect.

7. EXCEPT/ACCEPT

People rarely use accept when they mean except, but often put except where they shouldn’t. To accept something is to receive, admit, or take on. To except is to exclude or leave out—“I’ll take all the flavors except orange.” The x in except is a good clue to whether you’ve got it right. Are you xing something out with the word? No? Then consider changing it.

8. DISCREET/DISCRETE

Discreet means hush-hush or private. Discrete means separate, divided, or distinct. In discreet, the two Es are huddled together, telling secrets. In discrete, they are separated and distinguished from each other by the intervening t.

9. I.E./E.G.

When you add information to a sentence with parentheses, you’re more likely to need e.g., which means “for example,” than i.e., which means “in other words” or “which is to say ...” An easy way to remember them is that e.g. is eg-zample and i.e. is “in effect.”

10. CITE/SITE

People didn’t have as much trouble with these two before websites came along and everyone started talking about sites a lot more than they used to. A site is a location or place. Cite, on the other hand, is a verb meaning to quote or reference something else. You can cite a website, but not the other way around. If you’re using site as a verb, it’s probably wrong.

11. DISINTERESTED/UNINTERESTED

People sometimes use disinterested when they really mean uninterested. To be uninterested is to be bored or indifferent to something; this is the sense most everyday matters call for. Disinterested means impartial or having no personal stake in the matter. You want a judge or referee to be disinterested, but not necessarily uninterested. 

12. FLOUT/FLAUNT

Are you talking about showing off? Then you don’t mean flout, you mean flaunt. To flout is to ignore the rules. You can think of flaunt as the longer showier one, with that extra letter it goes around flaunting. You can flout a law, agreement, or convention, but you can flaunt almost anything.

13. PHASE/FAZE

Phase is the more common word and usually the right choice, except in those situations where it means “to bother.” If something doesn’t bother you, it doesn’t faze you. Faze is almost always used after a negative, so be on alert if there is an isn’t/wasn’t/doesn’t nearby. 

14. LOATH/LOATHE

Loath is reluctant or unwilling, while to loathe is to hate. You are loath to do the things you loathe, which makes it confusing, but you can keep them clear by noting whether the word has a "to be" verb on one side and a to on the other (he is loath to, I would be loath to), in which case loath is correct, or it can be substituted by hate (I loathe mosquitoes), in which case you need the e on the end.

15. WAVE/WAIVE

The word wave is far more frequent than waive and has a more concrete meaning of undulating motion. It’s often used for waive, "to give something up," perhaps because it fits well with the image of someone waving something away. But when you waive your rights, or salary, or contract terms, you surrender them. You can think of the extra i in waive as a little surrender flag in the middle of the word.

16. INTENSIVE PURPOSES

Intensive is a word that means strong or extreme, but that’s not what’s called for in this phrase.  To say “practically speaking” or “in all important ways” the phrase you want is “for all intents and purposes.”

17. GAUNTLET/GAMUT

Run the gauntlet and run the gamut are both correct, but mean different things. Running the gauntlet was an old type of punishment where a person was struck and beaten while running between two rows of people. A gamut is a range or spectrum. When something runs the gamut, it covers the whole range of possibilities.

18. PEEK/PEAK

This pair causes the most trouble in the phrase sneak peek where the spelling from sneak bleeds over to peek, causing it to switch meaning from "a quick look" to "a high point." If you imagine the two Es as a pair of eyes, it can help you remember to use peek for the looking sense.

19. FORTUITOUS

Fortuitous means by chance or accident. Because of its similarity to fortunate, it is commonly used to refer to a lucky accident, but it need not be. Having lightning strike your house and burn it down is not a lucky event, but according to your insurance company it will be covered because it is fortuitous, or unforeseen.

20. REFUTE

To refute a claim or an argument doesn’t just mean to offer counterclaims and opposing arguments. That would be to respond or rebut. To refute is to prove that a claim is false. If you refute, the disagreement should be over because you’ve won. If someone accuses you of not having paid for something, you refute the accusation by producing the receipt.

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'Puggle,' 'Emoji,' and 298 Other New Words Added to Scrabble Dictionary
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Scrabble aficionados and wordsmiths around the world will soon have some new reading material to bone up on. In celebration of National Scrabble Day today, the makers of the classic word game announced that 300 new words will be added to Scrabble’s official dictionary.

The new words will be published in the sixth edition of Merriam-Webster’s The Official Scrabble Player’s Dictionary, which will be released this fall, according to Mashable.

Here are just a few of the new additions:

Emoji (noun): A small computer symbol used to express emotion
Ew (interjection): Used to express disgust
Facepalm (verb): To cover the face with the hand
Macaron (noun): A cookie with filling in the middle
Puggle (noun): A kind of dog
Sriracha (noun): A spicy pepper sauce

Some players of the 70-year-old game may be surprised to learn that “ew” isn’t already a word, especially considering that Scrabble recognizes more than 100 two-letter words, including “hm” (another expression), “ai” (a three-toed sloth), and “za” (slang for pizza). If played strategically and placed on a triple word square, “ew” can land you 15 points—not bad for two measly letters.

New Scrabble words must meet a few criteria before they’re added to the official dictionary. They must be two to eight letters long and already in a standard dictionary. Abbreviations, capitalized words, and words with hyphens or apostrophes are immediately ruled out.

Peter Sokolowski, editor at large at Merriam-Webster, told Entertainment Weekly, “For a living language, the only constant is change. New dictionary entries reflect our language and our culture, including rich sources of new words such as communication technology and food terms from foreign languages.”

The last edition of the Scrabble dictionary came out in 2014 and included 5000 new words, such as "selfie," "hashtag," "geocache," and "quinzhee."

[h/t Mashable]

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25 Double-Letter Scrabble Words to Have in Your Back Pocket
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The best Scrabble players are the strategic ones who keep adding words to their player vocabulary. Once you've mastered a number of two-letter words and the high-scoring ones (that are admittedly very difficult to play), start looking to double-letter words to take advantage of the multiples on your tile rack.

1. AGLOO

seal on snow
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Don't have an I for IGLOO? Use an A for AGLOO, meaning an air hole through the ice made by a seal.

2. ALLEE

allee
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Instead of an ALLEY, use this double-double-lettered word meaning a tree-lined walkway.

3. BETTA

betta fish
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Rather than BETA, use that extra T to mean the freshwater fish.

4. BRATTICE

Coal mine
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A BRATTICE now means a heavy curtain or barrier in a mine to help direct air flow, though the medieval meaning was simply a temporary partition along a wall.

5. DRESSAGE

Dressage
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The fanciest of all horse training and equestrian events, DRESSAGE is the obedience and discipline riding competition, rather than the racing.

6. FUGGY

man holding his nose because of terrible smell
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To FUG is to make something stuffy or odorous, but its adjective form (FUGGY) and past and present participles (FUGGED, FUGGING) will take care of any extra Gs on the board.

7. GHYLL

two people looking into a ravine
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Not only will GHYLL, which is a deep ravine, utilize a double-letter, but it will help if your tile bar is sorely lacking in vowels.

8. GRAAL

gold chalice
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GRAAL is an older form of the word GRAIL, but it's also a technique used in glassblowing.

9. HEELER

Shoemaker holding high heels
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Don't have an A for HEALER? A HEELER is a person who puts heels on shoes (as well as an Australian cattle dog).

10. HELLUVA

cursing key on keyboard
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If you're having a HELLUVA time getting rid of a few letters, this nonstandard combination word is actually Scrabble-approved.

11. INNAGE

worker examining containers
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INNAGE is the quantity of goods remaining in a container when received after shipment.

12. LARRUP

man defeating other man at video games
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To decisively defeat someone or trounce them is to LARRUP.

13. MAMMEE

tropical island
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Another double-double-letter word, a MAMMEE is species of tropical tree with large red fruit.

14. MOGGY

cats
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A MOGGY or MOGGIES (plural) is the cat equivalent of a mutt.

15. OLLA

Salad in glass jars
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A quick word to tack onto some common board letters, an OLLA is a wide-mouthed pot or jar.

16. OUTTELL

woman with megaphone mural
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OUTTELL, OUTTELLS, and OUTTELLING all refer to speaking out or declaring something openly.

17. PERRON

outdoor staircase
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A PERRON can refer to both large outdoor stairways or the stone platforms of certain columns and edifices.

18. PIGGERY

pig in pig pen
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You're surely prepared with PIGGY, PIGGIE, and PIGGISH, but a PIGGERY is a pigpen.

19. QUASSIA

Quassia amara
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Score extra points with a well-place Q. A QUASSIA is another tropical tree whose bitter bark is sometimes used as a digestive aid or an insecticide.

20. SCABBLE

clay in hands
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No, not Scrabble. SCABBLE means to shape roughly.

21. TIPPET

tippet
Metropolitan Museum of Art, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

A TIPPET is a covering for the shoulders, or a ceremonial scarf worn by clergy.

22. TYPP

balls of yarn
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A TYPP (or TYPPS, plural) is a unit of yarn size. It's an acronym for thousand yards per pound.

23. VALLUM

Vallum at Hadrian's Wall
Optimist on the run, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

The VALLUM was part of the defensive wall of earth and stone surrounding Roman camps.

24. WEEPIE

man and woman crying in movie theater
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While WEEPY is an adjective for tending to weep, a WEEPIE is a very maudlin movie.

25. WELLY

child wearing wellingtons
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According to the official Scrabble dictionary, WELLY is an acceptable form of WELLIE, the British rainboots.

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