As Lewis Carroll's Alice observed, if you drink from a bottle marked "poison," it is almost certain to disagree with you sooner or later. But what about venom or a toxin? Today we'll take a look at these three terms and figure out what makes them different from one another.( With the help of the cast from Star Trek: The Original Series )
( Are you sure you don’t mean the ground floor? )
For all that James Nicoll's joke is true—English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and rifle their pockets for new vocabulary—there are still so many concepts we don't have words for in English. Sometimes these are locally influenced, such as distinct terms for snow in Inuktitut or for sweet potatoes in Hawaiian, but other times there are new ways of looking at life that other languages bring to the fore by naming them. ( How many of these words do you want to kidnap? )
Just look at those words! Aren't they wonderful? And as readers who consume a wide variety of literature, we recognize them, don't we? Of course we do!
A more difficult question is "Do we know exactly what they mean?" For my part, I'm not ashamed to say "not exactly, no."
These sorts of words are what author Seth Stevenson calls "bubble vocabulary." In his 2014 Slate article Shibboleth. Casuistry. Recondite., he takes a look at these words at the very edges of our vocabularies and suggests some strategies for attempting to employ them.( Wrestling with bubbles … )
( I shudder to think of closing the shutters. )
( How can we alter that altar? )
( More about those 25 commonly incorrect words... )
With examples from Stargate SG-1
Even though these words share a similar meaning, "pertaining to society," they are still different in the way they are used. ( Read more... )
With examples from X-Files and a reference to an old Charlie Chaplin film.
( Goulashes vs. galoshes )
( I’ve got so much indignation that my indigestion has ignited. )
Today we'll take a closer look at a trio of very classy-sounding but easily confused words: imminent, eminent, and immanent.( With the help of the heavenly cast of Saiyuki Gaiden )
( With examples from Buffy the Vampire Slayer )
With examples from X-Files and Stargate SG-1
( Disk vs. Disc )
With examples from Once Upon a Time
( So what exactly is the difference between 'gold' and 'golden'? )
We've had an inquiry about the difference between infirmary and infirmity. As in so many cases, the Romans are most directly to blame for the similarity between these words. Let's explore a little farther with the help of the staff and faculty of Hogwarts, from the Harry Potter series.( Getting to the root of the problem ... )
Today's examples are brought to you by Star Trek: TOS, Star Trek:TNG, Star Wars, The Lord of the Rings, The Professionals, and The Sentinel. It's like a council of fandoms, counselling us on appropriate word usage.
( The difference between council and counsel )