Usage Dictionary

The usage, typography, and style advice I cover below rely on my ear and my research, which includes Garner’s Modern English Usage, Usage and Abusage, The Elements of Style, The Chicago Manual of Style, New Oxford American Dictionary, the Online Etymology Dictionary, and the Google Ngram Viewer. For some topics I also refer to the Publication Manual of the APA, the AP Stylebook, The Elements of Typographic Style, and other style guides. I lean toward a prescriptive expression of written English, which means that I encourage logical prose—writing that is clear, precise, and stylistically consistent. You may thus guess that this dictionary is a stricter resource for those who care to keep their writing free from the fluff of every new vogue term and fad phrase and colloquial error—the junk that adds no quality to our language. I am no pedant, but I am no pushover for the daily onslaught of lazy usage. Language changes, but not all change improves language. To quote one of my favorite books: “simple illiteracy is no basis for linguistic evolution.”

I try to add a few entries every month, though that habit depends on what discrepancies I notice, what questions I have, what I feel like writing about, and how much time I have. If you have suggestions or corrections, please use the means of contact listed on my about page. I am quick to right my own mistakes.

May the below alphabetical navigator aid your search, especially as this dictionary continues to grow, though you are welcome to peruse all entries at your leisure.

a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z

a la or à la
a or an
a lot
abridgment or abridgement
adviser
aesthetic
affect or effect
airplane or aeroplane
all right
all together or altogether
allude, elude, or illude
already or all ready
although or though
aluminum or aluminium
am, pm or a.m., p.m.
amend or emend
among
amoral, immoral, or unmoral
amuse or bemuse
antennae or antennas
antivenin
anymore or any more
anyway
apostrophes
archaeology
argument
armadillo
as or like
ass or arse
attorney general
autumn or fall
awake, awaken, wake, or waken
ax or axe
badminton
bare or bear
bc, ad or bce, ce
bear
beg the question
beseech
between you and me
bi- or semi-
biannual, biennial, or semiannual
boring
born or borne
bourgeois, bourgeoise, or bourgeoisie
broth or stock
brussels sprout
burglarize or burgle
burn
bury the lead
can or may
cancel
cannot
capital or capitol
cast
celsius or centigrade
cemetery or graveyard
cliché
climactic or climatic
complement or compliment
complexion
compose or comprise
condemn or condone
contemptible or contemptuous
contemptuous or contumacious
conterminous or contiguous
couldn’t care
cozy
creep
curb or kerb
dashes and hyphens
data
daylight saving time
deep-seated
demesne
diaereses
dialects
dialogue or dialog
diarrhea or diarrhoea
die
die or pass away
digitize or digitalize
directional words
disinformation or misinformation
disinterest or uninterest
disorganized or unorganized
dissatisfied or unsatisfied
distinct or distinctive
distrust or mistrust
doppelgänger
doughnut or donut
dream
drink
earth
e.g. or i.e.
elder or older
electrocute
elegy or eulogy
ellipses
emigrate or immigrate
enroll or enrol
ensure or insure
entitle or title
envy or jealousy
epigram, epigraph, or epitaph
eponym
erupt or irrupt
espresso
every time
everybody or every body
everybody or everyone
everyday or every day
everyone
exclamation points
façade or facade
fairy
fantasy
farther or further
fewer or less
fiancé or fiancée
film noir
fit or fitted
fjord
flammable or inflammable
flaunt or flout
flexion
forever
gantlet or gauntlet
get hold of
gibe, gybe, jibe, or jive
graffiti
gravestone, headstone, or tombstone
gray or grey
hair-raising
hair’s breadth
handful
hanged or hung
he or she
healthful or healthy
heart-rending
help + [infinitive]
hiccup
home in on
hopefully
ice cream
iced tea
if or whether
impregnable or impregnatable
in and of itself
indexes or indices
indoor, indoors, or inside
intents and purposes
italics
just deserts
labyrinth or maze
lay or lie
leaped or leapt
learned or learnt
lighted or lit
literati
long sentences
maelstrom
maître d’hôtel
math or maths
milquetoast
minuscule
minutia
moil or toil
movable
mr., mrs. or mr, mrs
muslim
né and née
niggard and niggardly
niggle
nimrod
numerals
octopus
okay, ok, or o.k.
on all counts
one of the . . .
outdoor, outdoors, or outside
over-punctuation
pajamas or pyjamas
paragraphing
parallelism
parentheses
passed or past
passerby
pay
peccadillo
people or persons
peoples
percent or per cent
perfect synonyms
persona
personal
personally
plural compound nouns
pore over
poser or poseur
principal or principle
prove
quotes
racket or racquet
raring to go
regard
reign or rein
repertoire or repertory
rife or ripe
riffle or rifle
sarcophagus or sarcophagous
sceptic or skeptic
seed
sensual or sensuous
sentence spaces
serial comma
setup or set up
shake
shall or will
shined or shone
should have
simulacrum
sink
sneak
someday or some day
speaker attributions
specialty
spell
spill
split infinitives
spoil
stationary or stationery
statute of limitations
story or storey
subjunctives
suffice it to say
suspect or suspicious
suspect
swim
swing
tenterhooks
than me or than i
theater or theatre
thou and thee
till or until
tortuous, torturous, or tortious
try to
unique
up
use or utilize
v. or vs.
veranda
vogue words
wangle or wrangle
website
wet
wet or whet
whiskey or whisky
who or whom
wiener
winded or wound
wintry
yogurt or yoghurt
yuca or yucca
zero