Appendix III: Word Wise




daemon – (obsolete)
demon – (current)


dam – a barrier.
damn – curse, consign to hell.


data is, data are

Whether we like it or not, the transformation of data from a plural to a singular noun is all but complete. Agenda long ago went the same way and
media, too, seems about to fall: ‘The media got its teeth into the story’ (John Humphrys);1 
‘The media is prevented from reporting the incident by
a high court order’ (Peter Sissons).
2 But we need not give in yet. Burchfield offers a compromise. In most contexts, he says, data should be
construed in the plural, taking corresponding verbs and pronouns (
data are, they are), but may legitimately be construed in the singular in computer
language: ‘Data is 
stored on a disk…’3

(See also English- and Latin-ending plurals.)



Except for centuries (21st century), cardinals, not ordinals, are now the norm: 12 June rather than 12th June. But when the month is not given,
ordinals are still used: We fly from Heathrow on the 16th. The British practice is to put the day before the month 
(12 June); the American practice 
(and the preference of most daily newspapers) is to put the month before the day (June 12). It should be 
remembered that these practices can
cause confusion when entire dates are figured. Thus 12.06.11 is the twelfth of June in Britain 
and the sixth of December in the US.

(See also numbers.)


deadly – lethal: a deadly weapon.
deathly – suggestive of death: a deathly silencedeathly pale.


Dear Sir / Madam – Yours faithfully.
Dear Ms Jones – Yours sincerely.

Never two s’s together (never sir and sincerely).


decent – respectable, presentable.
descent – a downward journey.



As pedants love to point out, to decimate is literally ‘to punish, kill or remove one in every ten’. But the use of the word to mean ‘ravage’, ‘devastate’ 
or ‘cause great destruction to’ is fairly well established now.


decree – (n.) an official order or judgement; (v.) make such an order or judgement.
degree – a stage; an extent; a measure; a university award.


deduce – conclude, infer, reason from the general to the particular.
deduct – subtract, take away from.

Both verbs take the same noun, deduction.


de facto – in fact, irrespective of right.
de jure – by right, irrespective of fact.

Thus the de jure leader of Russia was Tsar Nicholas II, while the de facto leader was Rasputin.


déjà vu, deja vu.

The Times with,4 The Guardian without.5

(See diacritics.)



Best confined to babies, newspapers, groceries, speeches and souls. The word is non-standard as a synonym of ‘achieve’ or ‘succeed’.


delusion, illusion.

The common explanation that illusions are misinterpretations of sensory stimuli while delusions are misinterpretations of ideas or circumstances is
inaccurate. Illusions can be either: a mirage is an optical illusion; she had no illusions about the difficulty she was facing. The key difference is that
delusion is restricted to the latter: he had the delusion that all women found him irresistible; she had delusions of being followed.


demur – raise objections.
demure – quiet, shy, coy, reserved.


dependant (n.), dependent (adj.)

In British English, dependants are people, while dependent describes their condition: She had four dependants; She had four dependent children.
In American English, dependant functions in both capacities.


derisive – mocking: to make a derisive comment.
derisory – deserving of mockery: to make a derisory offer.


desert – (n.) Sahara and Gobi; a just reward or punishment; (v.) abandon, forsake.
dessert – apple pie and custard.


desiccate – so spelt.


dexterous – (recommended)
dextrous – (variant)

Pronounced with two syllables, irrespective of spelling.



Diacritics are the symbols placed above or below letters to indicate different pronunciations and, in English, are most commonly found in words of
French origin. Diacritics are omitted when the word is deemed to be naturalised. Thus we see more of cafe 
than caféelite than élite, regime than
régime. But the symbols should remain where confusion with another word might 
otherwise occur: expose and exposé, lame and lamé, pate and
pâté, resume and résumé. Words now usually written without the symbols, besides those given above, include bona fidechateaucommunique
denouement, depot, elan, facade, matineemelee, naivepremiere and role. Those that usually retain them, besides those already cited, 
bête noire, blasé, cause célèbrechargé d’affaires, cliché, cortège, coupé, crèche, déjà vudétente, émigré, fête, protégé, puréeraison 
étatraison d’être, soiréetête-à-tête and vis-à-vis. In Microsoft Works, diacritics are selected from Symbols in the Insert menu.



Diseases and conditions are diagnosed, not people. After her examination of the patient, the doctor diagnosed influenza (correct); After her
examination, the doctor diagnosed the patient as having influenza
(common but incorrect).


dialogue – (UK)
dialog – (US)

The American spelling is universally used in computer language: dialog box.


diarrhoea – (UK)
diarrhea – (US)


dice – (singular and plural)

The singular die is obsolete except for the expression, the die is cast.


different from, different than, different to.

Different from is correct in all circumstances: He is different from his father. Purists frown on different to (He is different to his father) and
absolutely forbid different than (He is different than his father). But in informal English, different than can be 
more natural and less prolix than
different from: He is a very different man now than he used to be, rather than He is a very different man now from the man (or the one) he used
to be



A dilemma is a situation in which a choice has to be made between two or more mutually exclusive courses of action where each would have an
undesirable result: With only one kidney machine at their disposal, the doctors faced the dilemma of 
which of the two patients to save. The word
is misapplied simply to mean a difficult or unpleasant choice: He was in a dilemma 
about how to spend his winnings.



Best confined to geometry, mathematics and physics. The word is incorrectly used to mean ‘characteristic’ or ‘feature’: a new dimension in
business software


disassemble – take apart.
dissemble – disguise or conceal (especially motives or intentions).


disassociate – (disputed)
dissociate – (correct)


disc – (UK)
disk – (US)

The American spelling is universally used in computer language.


discomfit – (n. discomfiture) embarrass, baffle, thwart, worry, unnerve.
discomfort – (n.) unease, lack of comfort; (v.) make uneasy.


discreet – tactful.
discrete – separate, disjointed.


disenfranchise, disfranchise.



disinterested, uninterested.

Disinterested – objective, independent: Not being involved in the argument, he was able to give a disinterested opinion. Uninterested – showing
no interest, bored.


disorientated, disoriented.

Optional, with a British preference for disorientated.


dispatch – (recommended)
despatch – (variant)


dissociate – (recommended)
disassociate – (variant)


distil – (UK)
distill – (US)

But always distilled, distilling, distillation, distiller, distillery.


distinct, distinctive.

In the senses of ‘clear’, ‘standing out’ or ‘unmistakable’, distinct is used with concepts (a distinct advantage, a distinct possibilityand distinctive
with visible things (a distinctive birthmark, a distinctive wristwatch).


divorcé – a divorced man.
divorcée – a divorced woman.
divorcee(s) – (common gender)

The Times makes the gender distinction;6 The Guardian does not.7

(See also diacritics.)


dominate – command, lead or control.
domineer – command, lead or control tyrannically or overbearingly.


double-gender pronouns.

Using these to avoid sex bias can be fatal. Once begun, they must continue: After completing his or her enrolment form, the student should
proceed to his or her tutor’s room where he or she will be given his or her library card and induction materials.

(See the generic he)


doubtful, dubious.

Either adjective may be used to mean ‘uncertain’. Dubious alone means ‘possibly dishonest’.


doubt if, doubt that, doubt whether.

Traditionally, doubt if and doubt whether are used with affirmative statements to express uncertainty: With all this traffic, I doubt whether (doubt if)
we’ll get there in time. Either is correct, but doubt whether is formally preferred. In contrast, doubt that is used 
with negative statements to express
certainty: I don't doubt that it was an accident, but that punch in the last round was definitely 
below the belt. In such cases, that can be omitted for
brevity: I don't doubt it was an accident... But the rule has slackened so 
that doubt that (or simply doubt) is now often used with affirmatives as an
option to whether and if: With all this traffic, I doubt (doubt that) we'll get there in time.

(See also if, whether, and whether, whether or not.)


drawn game, not draw game.


dreamed, dreamt.

(See burned, burnt.)


drier, dryer.

The positive, comparative and superlative are respectively dry, drier and driest. As a noun for someone who, or something that, dries, drier is
preferred with dryer as an option: hairdrier or hairdryer.

(But see flyer, flier.)


dual – double, twofold.
duel – a fight or contest.


due to, owing to.

The ungrammatical uses of these expressions are so entrenched in the language that objections are now probably futile. For the caring few,
however, it should be remembered that whatever is due (or owing) to something must be expressed as a noun. For example, in the 
Flight 207 has been cancelled due to bad weather, the error is plainly seen if we ask what precisely was due to bad 
weather. The answer can
only be the cancellation of flight 207, but the noun cancellation does not appear in the sentence. We could instead write The cancellation of 
flight 207 is due to bad weather
, but the simplest 
correction would be Flight 207 has been cancelled because of bad weather.


dyke – (recommended)
dike – (variant)

Thus for all meanings.



Overuse has robbed this word of all dynamism. Options: energetic, enthusiastic, forceful, invigorated, potent, powerful.



1 John Humphrys, Today, BBC Radio Four, 8.15 a.m., 1 December 2002.
2 Peter Sissons, BBC News 24, 6.15 p.m., 8 November 2003.
3 R. W. Burchfield (ed.), The New Fowler’s Modern English Usage, Third Revised Edition, OUP, Oxford, 1998.
4 The Times Style Guide. No longer available on line. Multiple access, 2002
5 The Guardian Style Guide. Multiple access, 200203.
6 The Times Style Guide.
7 The Guardian Style Guide.



























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