Appendix III: Word Wise




saccharin – (n.) a sweetening substance.
saccharine – (adj.) sugary, sweet-tasting.


sanatorium, sanatoriums (rather than sanatoria).

(See English- and Latin-ending plurals.)


sanguine – characterised by blood; ruddy, red in colour; optimistic, confident.
sanguinary – delighting in blood, bloodthirsty.


sat, seated.

He sat in the chair or he was seated in the chair, but not he was sat in the chair.


scenario, situation.

A scenario is an outline of a plot, scheme or design, especially of a story, play or film. The word is misapplied to mean ‘circumstances’, ‘climate’ or
‘situation’: The novel has a fresh approach to the boy-meets-girl scenario (correct); Privatisation brought with it an entirely new working scenario
(incorrect). The worst-case scenario is more formally written, the worst possible outcome or the worst possible situation.


sceptic, sceptical – (UK)
skeptic, skeptical – (US)


Scotch, Scots, Scottish.

Scotch is obsolete except as an adjective in such expressions as scotch whisky (or simply scotch) and scotch egg. (Note the modern tendency to
use a lower-case initial (see place-name adjectives).) Scots is current as the collective noun for the people of Scotland (the Scots) but obsolescent 
as an adjective. The most common adjective now is Scottish: Scottish people, Scottish music, Scottish dance.


seamen – sailors.
semen – male reproductive fluid.


seamstress – (obsolete)
dressmaker – (current)


sensual – to do with the senses (especially in distinction to the mind or spirit); carnal, sexual.
sensuous – affecting the senses (aesthetically rather than carnally).


shaikh, sheik, sheikh.

All sources recommend sheikh.



Informal for mess or disorder. A shambles (archaic) is a slaughterhouse.


sic – so, thus.

Italicised and used in square brackets to indicate that an error in a quoted passage is the original writer’s or publisher’s, not the quoting writer’s: 
‘There are many theories of human motivation, but none of them alone is sufficient to explain such a complex phenomena [sic]’ (Smith, 2004: 169).
Smith, of course, should have written phenomenon.


simple, simplistic.

Simplistic means ‘excessively simple’ or ‘misleadingly simple’. A simple answer is an uncomplicated or straightforward answer, while a simplistic
answer is an oversimplified one.


siphon – (recommended)
syphon – (variant)


Sistine Chapel, not Cistine Chapel.


sizable, sizeable.

Optional. Sizable for Burchfield;1 sizeable for The Oxford Compendium2 and The Times.3

(See separate entries on knowledgeable, likeable, movable, rateable, unmistakable and unshakeable.)


skilful, skilfulness – (UK)
skillful, skillfulness – (US)

But always skilfully.


sledge – (UK)
sled – (US)


smelled, smelt.

(See burned, burnt.)


somersault – (current)
summersault – (obsolete)

sour, sourly.

(See bad, badly.)


speciality – (UK)
specialty – (US)


spectrum, spectra (rather than spectrums).

(See English- and Latin-ending plurals.)


sped, speeded.

Sped in used to mean ‘drove fast’: The vehicle sped past me. Speeded is used to mean ‘drove faster than the legal speed limit’ and in the phrasal
verb, speeded up: the adoption procedure needs to be speeded up.


spelled, spelt.

(See burned, burnt.)


spilled, spilt.

(See burned, burnt.)


split infinitive.

A much-contested rule of English grammar declaring it wrong to split the infinitive form of the verb: to quickly run.

(See the the split infinitive.)


spoiled, spoilt.

(See burned, burnt.)


stadium, stadiums (rather than stadia).

(See English- and Latin-ending plurals.)


stalagmite, stalactite.

Mites grow up and tights come down.


stammer, stutter.



stationary – still, motionless.
stationery – writing materials.


storey – (UK) a floor of a building.
story – (US) the same.


strategy – a long-term plan.
tactic – a short-term plan.


stratum, strata (rather than stratums).

(See English- and Latin-ending plurals.)


straw man.

The ruse of misrepresenting an opponent’s argument in order to defeat it more easily.

(See fallacies.)


stricken – (obsolete)
struck – (current)

But stricken remains as a compound adjective: panic-stricken, poverty-stricken, grief-stricken.


subpoena, subpoenaed – (UK)
subpena, subpenaed – (US)


succubus – a female demon that mates with sleeping men.
incubus – a male demon that mates with sleeping women.


sweet, sweetly.

(See bad, badly.)


syllabus, syllabuses (rather than syllabi).

(See English- and Latin-ending plurals.)


symposium, symposia (rather than symposiums).

(See English- and Latin-ending plurals.)


synthesise – (?UK)
synthesize – (UK & US)

The British / American distinction is not as clear as it is with analyse and analyze. The Times4 and The Guardian5 insist on synthesisewhile
 and The Oxford Compendium7 prefer synthesizeThe American Random House8 predictably opts for snythesize but give synthesise
  ‘chiefly British’.

(See also -ise- and -ize-ending verbs.)



1 R. W. Burchfield (ed.), The New Fowler’s Modern English Usage, Third Revised Edition, OUP, 1998.
2 The Oxford Compendium Concise Dictionary, 9th Edition, OUP, 1995.
3 The Times Style Guide. No longer available on line. Multiple access, 200203.
5 The Guardian Style Guide. Multiple access, 200203.
Burchfield op. cit.
The Oxford Compendium.
The Random House Dictionary of the English Language, Random House, New York, 1967.



























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