Appendix III: Word Wise




c., ca. – (circa) around, about.

Used to indicate that an exact date is unknown: The Romans invaded Britain c. 300 BC (or ca. 300 BC).


café, cafe.

Optional accent.

(See diacritics.)


calendar – a table of dates.
calender – a press for smoothing paper or cloth.


callous – hardened, unfeeling, heartless: a callous attack.
calloused – hardened (especially skin): the calloused fingers of a guitarist.
callus – an area of hardened skin.


candelabrum, candelabra (rather than candelabrums).

(See English- and Latin-ending plurals.)


cannon – (plural cannon) artillery; a shot in billiards.
canon – (plural canons) a law, principle or rule; a clergyman; a musical round.


canvas – on which to paint or sleep under.
canvass – (v.) solicit, electioneer, campaign, survey; (n.) an instance of canvassing.


carat – (UK) a unit of weight of precious stones; a measure of the purity of gold.
carrot – reputedly good for eyesight.
karat – (US) carat.


carburettor – (UK)
carburetor – (US)


Caribbean – so spelt.


cashmere – the fabric.
Kashmir – the region.


caviare – (UK)
caviar – (US & UK)

The word is traditionally spelt with an e in British English, but both The Guardian1 and The Times2 have adopted the American spelling. In the
company of those who consume it, be sure to stress the first syllable.


cede, seed.

Cede – yield, surrender, give up, relinquish. Seed – (n.) grain; offspring; semen; (plural) beginning: the seeds of doubt; a sportsperson assigned a
position: a tennis seed; (v.) plant, sow; become degenerate: go to seed; assign a position to a


censer, censor, censure, sensor.

Censer – a container for incense. Censor – (v.) officially inspect (and possibly delete or forbid): to censor a film; (n.) one who censors. Censure
criticise: The MP was censured for his remarks on immigration. Sensor – a detecting device.


centimetre – (UK)
centimeter – (US)


ceremonial, ceremonious.

Ceremonial – to do with ceremony or ritual: a ceremonial dinner. Ceremonious – having a tendency or fondness for ceremony or ritual; theatrical,
flamboyant: he bowed ceremoniously before her.


ceteris paribus – other things being equal.


Cf., cf. – (confer) compare.

(See abbreviations.)


chairman, chairwoman, chairperson, chair.

Unless referring to a specific office (the Conservative Party, for example, has a Chairman or Madam Chairman), chair is preferable in most


chaise longue – (Fr. and UK)
chaise lounge – (US)


check, cheque.

Check – (v.) examine, re-examine, make sure; stop, restrain; (n.) a pattern of squares; (adj. chequered); (US) cheque
Cheque – (UK) a written money order to a bank.


childish – immature, petulant.
childlike – innocent, naive.


chili – (US)
chilli – (UK)


chiropodist – one who treats ailments of the feet.
chiropractor – one who treats disorders of the joints by manipulation.


choral – of or sung by a choir or chorus.
chorale – a hymn or piece of music in the style of a hymn.
coral – a hard substance secreted by certain marine life (especially forming a reef).
corral – (US) an animal pen.


circular argument (circulus in demonstrando)

A logical fallacy in which the conclusion of an argument is no more than the restatement of one of its premises (e.g. the notorious catch 22).

(See fallacies.)


classic, classical.

Classical describes the arts of ancient Greece and Rome (n. classics), and ‘serious’ as opposed to ‘light’ music, especially the period and musical
forms of Haydn and Mozart. Classic means ‘typical’, ‘paradigmatic’, ‘remarkable’, ‘ideal’ or ‘outstanding’: a classic 
automobilea classic case of



Clichés, according to a notice once found in the offices of The Daily Express, ‘should be avoided like the plague’. For a comprehensive list of
irritating examples, see clichés, pleonasms and verbosity. Here are just a few from the usual culprits in 
business, education and politics: at
the end of the day
; between a rock and a hard place; the big picture; the bottom line; a level 
playing field; the cutting edge; a steep learning 
quality-driven; take on board; put on the back burnera proven track 
record; a whole new ball game.


climactic – to do with a climax.
climatic – to do with the climate.


coiffeur – a hairdresser (f. coiffeuse).
coiffure – a hair style.


coliseum – (US) colosseum.
colosseum – (UK) a large theatre, cinema, stadium or amphitheatre.
Colosseum – the famous one in Rome.


comedian – (common gender)
comedienne – (obsolete)


comic – deliberately humorous.
comical – unintentionally humorous.

The sketches of comedians are comic; the behaviour of puppies is comical.


commissionaire – a uniformed doorman
commissioner – one officially appointed a role: Commissioner for Oaths.


committee is, committee are.

Grammatically, committee is, but most authorities permit the plural in certain circumstances.

(See collective nouns.)


common sense – (n.) Use your common sense!
common-sense – (adj. obsolescent)
commonsense – (adj. current) 
She always took a commonsense approach to problems.



Usually pretentious as a transitive verb: He tried to communicate his ideas to the group. Option: explain.


comparatively, relatively.

These words should be used only when actual comparisons are drawn or relationships shown. They should not, that is, be used to mean ‘fairly’.
Two hundred people were exposed to the virus, but comparatively (relatively) few developed symptoms of the 
illness (correct: a comparison is
made between two hundred and few). The drug, a comparatively (relatively) recent development, 
was tested on the volunteers (incorrect: no
comparison is made).


compare to, compare with.

When the purpose is to show likeness or similarity, compare to is used: Some of Schubert’s music is good enough to compare to Beethoven’s.
When the purpose is to illustrate difference or contrast, either construction may be used: Though doubtless brilliant, 
Schubert’s music cannot be
compared to 
(compared withBeethoven’s.


compass-point place names.

These are increasingly being written with lower-case initials unless the compass point forms part of a proper noun (South AmericaWest Glamorgan).
Thus: the north, the south-east, western Europe, central America, south east Asia. But traditionalists, such as 
The Times, still prefer upper case: the
, the South-East, Western Europe, Central America, South East Asia.

(See capitals.)


competence, competency.

Competence is current and competency is obsolescent. Both words are mass nouns (like happiness and courage, they have no plurals), but
educationalists and management gurus, with their penchant for bombast, use them as needless synonyms for the count noun skill.4


complacent – self-satisfied; contented; smug.
complaisant – deferential, eager to please.


complement, compliment.

Complement – (v.) enhance, complete; (n.) a company, band or team. Compliment – (v.) congratulate, praise, commend; (n.) an expression of
praise or commendation.


complexion, not complection.

(See -xion endings.)


complex question.

In logic, a loaded question or two questions in one: Have you stopped beating your wife yet?

(See fallacies.)


compound adjectives.

It is important to hyphentate these when they come before the noun in order to show that they express one idea rather than two. Thus we see a
man-eating fish in the Amazon and a man eating fish in a restaurant.

(See the hyphen.)


compound nouns.

These appear in three forms: (a) open or spaced (bus stop, clothes line, post office, road map, secretary generalsewing machineswimming pool
vice president); (b) hyphenated (fox-hunting, free-for-all, get-togethermother-in law, passer-bysingle-mindednesstrain-spotting); and (c) closed or
solid (boyfriend, haircut, mastermindpickpocket, showdowntoothpaste, underworldwallpaper, wheelchairworkbench, workplace). Some open and 
hyphenated forms tend to remain that way in order to avoid unsightly spelling, but the tendency is for them eventually to 
become closed. The following,
for example, now usually appear thus: babysitter, bodybuildingbreastfeedingcardholdercheerleader, chequebookchildminderdishwasher,
granddaughter, headteacher (but also head teacher), schoolteachertakeawaytakeover, voicemailwebsite, whitewash. And The Guardian, an avid 
closer of 
compounds, pioneers with bloodsports, chatshow, foxhunting, healthcarepasserby, placenamequizshow, roadmapsicknoteteabag
teargas and thinktank. As the paper's Style Guide (styleguide?) remarks, 'Why wait?'5

(See also the hyphen and email, e-mail.)


comprise, consist in, consist of.

Comprise never takes a preposition, whereas consist always does: The mixture comprises five parts flour and one part saltThe mixture consists
of five parts flour and one part salt
. Consist in is preferred for definitions: Virtue consists in this: Do unto others as you would have others do unto


concede victory, concede defeat.

The interminable debate about these expressions mistakenly assumes that one of them must be incorrect. To concede is to admit something one
would rather not, so it makes not the slightest difference whether one is conceding one's opponent's victory or one's own defeat; to concede one is
logically to concede the other.


confidant – (n.) (common gender)
confidante – (obsolete)


congeries – (singular and plural) one or more than one disorderly heap or mass.


connection, connexion.


(See -xion endings.)


connote – imply.
denote – indicate, signify.

Thus hoi polloi denotes ‘the many’ and connotes ‘the rabble’.


consortium, consortia (rather than consortiums).

(See English- and Latin-ending plurals.)



To avoid ambiguity, it should be remembered that contemporary has two meanings: ‘dating from the same time’ and ‘belonging to the present’.
Burchfield quotes an example of such ambiguity from of Sir Ernest Gowers: ‘Twelfth Night is to be produced with 
contemporary incidental music’.6


contemptible – despicable, deserving of contempt: Burglars are contemptible.
contemptuous – scornful, showing contempt: Society is contemptuous of burglars.


continually, continuously.

Continually – occurring successively with short intermissions: The clock ticked continually. Continuously – unbroken in duration: The machine
hummed continuously


contractable – acquirable: a contractable disease.
contractible – shrinkable: a contractible lens.


conversationalist – (recommended)
conversationist – (variant)

(See also educationalist, educationist.)


conveyer, conveyor.

In the context of a person who conveys, the spelling is optional. Webster’s gives conveyer as the principal American spelling7 which is also the
choice of The Times,
8 while The Oxford Compendium9 and the American Random House10 opt for conveyor. But always conveyor belt.


convince, persuade.

Persuade is the more traditional verb in all contexts, but today we are generally convinced to believe and persuaded to act.


chord – on a piano.
cord – on a dressing gown.


corporal, corporeal.

Corporal – (n.) a non-commissioned officer below sergeant; (adj.) to do with the body: corporal punishment. Corporeal – physical, body-like;
material (as distinct from spiritual): Christians believe that Jesus was God in corporeal form.


council – an elected body (agent noun, councillor).
counsel – (v.) advise; (n.) advice (agent noun, counsellor).


crèche, creche.

Optional accent.

(See diacritics.)


credible – believable.
creditable – deserving praise.
credulous – able to believe; gullible.


cunt, c***

(See obscenities.)


curb – (v.) restrain, control, inhibit; (n.) (US) kerb.
kerb – (n.) the stone border of a pavement or path.


currant – a dried grape.
current – (n.) the flow of water or electricity; (adj.) existing or happening now.


curriculum – a prescribed course of subjects of study.
curricula – plural of curriculum.
curricular – (adj.) Of or to do with the curriculum: English and mathematics are compulsory curricular subjects.

(See also extra-curricular)



1 The Guardian Style Guide, updated May 2012. Accessed 27.05.12.
2 The Times Style Guide. No longer available on line. Multiple access, 2002
3 Ibid.
4 ‘In their 1990 article entitled, The Core Competence of the Corporation, C. K. Prahalad and Gary Hamel coined the term core competencies, or
   the collective learning and coordination skills behind the firm’s product lines. Quick MBAAccessed 03.05.12.
5 The Guardian Style Guide, updated May 2012. But this inclination to close compound nouns (e.g. fox-hunting to foxhunting) can sometimes be
   hasty. As explained on the apostrophe page, hyphenated compounds take the plural s within the construction (mothers-in law, not mother-in-laws
   while closed compounds take the s at the end (spoonfuls, not spoonsful). Upon closure, therefore, the plural passers-by would have to become the 
   curious-looking passerbys.
6 R. W. Burchfield (ed.), The New Fowler’s Modern English Usage, Third Revised Edition, OUP, Oxford, 1998.
Webster’s Third New International Dictionary, Könemann, 1993.
The Times Style Guide.
The Oxford Compendium Concise Dictionary, 9th Edition, OUP, 1995.
10 The Random House Dictionary of the English Language, Random House, New York, 1967.





























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