100 Words Almost Everyone Mixes Up or Mangles

100 Words Almost Everyone Mixes Up or Mangles

by American Heritage Dictionary Editors


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A book with real cache . . . or is it cachet?​

100 Words Almost Everyone Mixes Up or Mangles presents words that people can’t keep straight, no matter how hard they try. It features helpful notes that provide guidance on tricky usage issues: the confusion between lend and loan, between plurality and majority, whether free rein is spelled “rein” or “reign.” Each entry has a full definition and etymology, and most are accompanied by quotations from classic and contemporary authors that show how the words are used in context. 
With updates to some of the definitions and etymologies based on revisions made to the American Heritage Dictionary, a refreshed and diversified quotation program, and a brand-new cover design to match the updated series look, there’s no doubt this is the book people have been looking for; a book that readers will pour (pore?) over, a book that is both masterful (masterly?) and laudable (laudatory?).

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781328710321
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date: 09/26/2017
Series: 100 Words Series
Pages: 128
Sales rank: 229,095
Product dimensions: 4.50(w) x 7.80(h) x 0.40(d)

About the Author

The EDITORS OF THE AMERICAN HERITAGE DICTIONARIES are trained lexicographers with a varied array of interests and expertise.

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adherence (ad-hîr['ens)


1. The process or condition of adhering. 2. Faithful attachment; devotion: "rigid adherence to ... the teachings of a single man" (Janet Reitman).

[From French adhérence, from Latin adhaerentia, from adhaerens, adhaerent, present participle of adhaerere, to stick to : ad-, to + haerere, to stick.]

In concept at least, adherence and adhesion both involve the sticking of one thing to another, but adherence appears predominantly in figurative contexts while adhesion is predominantly physical. So you might describe a glue as having good adhesion to glass. But adherence is almost never used in this way.

Adherence sees a great variety of nonphysical uses. People can maintain their adherence to the tenets of a religion or philosophy, or demonstrate their adherence to procedure or a set of rules (such as a strict dietary or exercise regimen), but it sounds strange to speak of a person's adhesion to a faith or a diet.

Interestingly, while these two nouns have gone down separate paths, they share the same verb: adhere. Mud adheres to your boots, and people adhere to their beliefs.

Scientific evidence exists that atherosclerosis and coronary insufficiency can be reversed by adherence to a conscientious program of lifestyle modification involving a strictly vegetarian, low-fat diet, yoga, meditation, group therapy, and moderate exercise.

— Andrew Weil, M.D., Natural Health, Natural Medicine


adhesion (ad-he'zhen)


1. The process or condition of sticking or staying attached to a surface. 2. The physical attraction or joining of two substances, especially the macroscopically observable attraction of dissimilar substances. 3. A fibrous band of scar tissue that binds together normally separate anatomical structures.

[From French adhésion, from Latin adhaesio, adhaesion, from adhaesus, past participle of adhaerere, to adhere; see adherence (#1).]

SEE NOTE AT adherence (#1).

Her plump upper lip clamped onto the lower as a snail's broad foot clamps onto a leaf, the adhesion indicating that she found the topic distasteful and had nothing more to say upon it.

— John Updike, The Widows of Eastwick


adopted (e-dop'tid)


1. Having taken on the legal responsibilities as a parent of a child that is not one's biological child. 2. Having become the owner or caretaker of a pet, especially one from a shelter. 3. Being a place that one has moved to or resettled in: one's adopted country.

[Past participle of adopt, from Middle English adopten, to adopt, from Old French adopter, from Latin adoptare: ad-, to, towards + optare, to choose.]

Children are adopted by parents, and we normally refer to an adopted child but to adoptive parents, families, and homes. When describing places, you can use either adopted or adoptive, but there is sometimes a slight difference in emphasis. She enjoys living in her adopted country emphasizes that she has chosen to live there. She enjoys living in her adoptive country suggests that she has adjusted to living there or has been accepted in the community.


adoptive (e-dop'tiv)


1. Characteristic of or having to do with adoption. 2. Related by adoption: "increased honesty and sharing between birth families, adoptive families and adoptees" (Robyn S. Quinter). 3. Being a place where one has moved or been accepted as a new resident.

[Middle English adoptif, from Old French, from Latin adoptivus, from adoptare, to adopt: ad, to, towards + optare, to choose.]

SEE NOTE AT adopted (#3).


amend (e-mend')


1. To change something for the better; improve: We took steps to amend the situation.2. To alter the wording of a legal document, for example, so as to make it more suitable or acceptable. 3. To enrich soil, especially by mixing in organic matter or sand.


make amends To make reparations for a grievance or injury caused to someone.

[Middle English amenden, to remedy, correct, emend, from Old French amender, from Latin emendare: e, variant (used in front of certain consonants) of ex-, out + mendum, fault.]

Amend and emend look similar, sound similar, and have similar meanings. In fact, they even come from the same word in Latin. The two words are what linguists call doublets, words that derive from the same word in another language, but have taken different forms and meanings because they were borrowed at different times or were affected by an intermediary language (as a Latin word being borrowed through French). Travel and travail, and chase and catch, are other examples of doublets.

Etymologically, amend and emend both mean "to take away a defect or fault," that is, to change something so as to improve it, but each word's range of application is different. When something is amended it is usually improved by an addition or revision, as in the case of the US Constitution, which has been amended by its amendments. Outside of legal contexts, amend has fairly broad application. You can amend (that is, correct) someone's remarks, or amend (reform) your life. You can also make amends (that is make reparations or compensation) to someone for some offense you have committed. You never make emends.

Emend also means to improve, but its range of application is quite narrow. It is used almost solely of texts that are edited or changed. Thus the editors of a literary work emend a text when they suspect that a certain word in it is a mistake, such as one that was miscopied by a scribe copying a manuscript. The editors may emend a word in a line (as in one of Shakespeare's plays) to a different word found in another source, or they may insert a word that they posit must have been intended by the author and was included in the original text, which has been lost.

The noun derived from this verb is emendation (not emendment).

But the surest sign that his confession had been good and that he had had sincere sorrow for his sin, was, he knew, the amendment of his life.

I have amended my life, have I not? he asked himself.

— James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

For the next two weeks she answered the telephone at Women's Services with tight courtesy, hearing but not able to amend the sharpness in her manner. The clients who came in asked to talk to other counselors.

— Erin McGraw, The Good Life


baleful (bal'ful)


1. Portending evil; ominous: The guard's baleful glare frightened the children.2. Harmful or malignant in intent or effect: a baleful influence.

[Middle English, from Old English bealoful: bealu, bale, evil + –ful, –ful.]

Baleful and baneful have pretty much the same meanings, but baneful most often describes that which is actually harmful or destructive, and it frequently modifies words such as effects, consequences, and influence.

Like baneful, baleful is used to characterize harmful effects and influences, but it is most often applied to something that is menacing or that foreshadows evil, so the range of words it modifies tends to be broader.

Speak, Winchester; for boiling choler chokes The hollow passage of my poison'd voice, By sight of these our baleful enemies.

— William Shakespeare, Henry VI, Part I: Act 5, Scene 4, 120–122

Her temper was too sweet for her to show any anger, but she felt that her happiness had received a bruise, and for several days merely to look at Fred made her cry a little as if he were the subject of some baleful prophecy.

— George Eliot, Middlemarch


baneful (ban'fel)


1. Causing harm, ruin, or death; harmful: the baneful effects of the poison.2. Portending harm; ominous: a baneful dream.

[Compound of bane, harm, ruin, death (from Middle English, from Old English bana) + -ful, full (from Middle English, from Old English –full).]

SEE NOTE AT baleful (#6).

In due course, the Committee found that Keynes was, indeed, exerting a baneful influence on the Harvard economic mind and that the Department of Economics was unbalanced in his favor.

— John Kenneth Galbraith, "How Keynes Came to America," Economics, Peace and Laughter

Then I sat down in a pink straight-backed wicker chair at an oaken desk, also painted pink, whose coarse-grained and sturdy construction reminded me of the desks used by schoolmarms in the grammar-school classrooms of my childhood, and with a pencil between thumb and forefinger confronted the first page of the yellow legal pad, its barrenness baneful to my eye.

— William Styron, Sophie's Choice


beyond the pale


Utterly unacceptable or unreasonable.

[After the Pale, the medieval dominions of the English in Ireland, from Middle English pale, stake, picket, from Old French pal, from Latin palus.]

A good way to remember the proper spelling of an expression is to know its origin. In the case of beyond the pale, pails and buckets are not part of the story, nor is the adjective pale that means "of light hue," as in pale yellow. The pale of beyond the pale is related to the word pole and refers to a pointed stake or picket. Such stakes are commonly used to fence in or simply mark the boundaries of pieces of land. As early as the 1300s, the word pale came to be used for the boundary or fence itself; by 1400 it was applied to the land inside the boundary.

In the 1500s, the word developed into a proper noun. People within the English Pale or the Pale were subject to English jurisdiction and protection; lands beyond the Pale were considered by the English to be hostile and dangerous.

Today, the expression is used metaphorically and means "outside of the limits of acceptability." Note that the word pale is not capitalized when the expression is used in this way.

You think ... about the scene you had with him in front of her. You think this might be the best way of explaining to her how it's happened that you've left him. You want to explain that you of all women don't have to take whatever your husband gives you. That some things are simply beyond the pale.

— Jonathan Franzen, The Twenty-Seventh City


cache (kash)


1. An amount of goods or valuables, especially when kept in a concealed or hard-to-reach place: They maintained a cache of food in case of emergencies.2. The concealed or hard-to-reach place used for storing a cache.


To hide or store something in a cache.

[French, from Middle French, from cacher, to hide, from Old French, from Vulgar Latin *coacticare, to store, pack together, frequentative of Latin coactare, to constrain, frequentative of cogere, coact-, to force.]

Both cache and cachet come from French, and they are sometimes confused. Cache, meaning "a store of goods stashed in a hiding place," began to appear frequently in English in the early 19th century. Thus, the police might find a cache of drugs or a cache of stolen money hidden at a crime scene, or a group of explorers might hide a cache of supplies to be used on their return trip. It is properly pronounced like the word cash. (Note that there is no accent mark over the e.) The word is sometimes pronounced with two syllables as (ka-sha'), but this pronunciation is not considered standard and may be viewed as a mistake by people who know French.

Cachet means "a mark of distinction, prestige." It originally referred to a seal that closed letters and identified the writer, who was often an important person or aristocrat. Nowadays a prestigious university might attract students because it has cachet, or a certain brand of product might be popular because it has a certain cachet. Cachet is pronounced with two syllables: (ka-sha'). When spelling this word, people sometimes mistakenly leave off the final –t.

He opened the bottom desk drawer, where he was hoping to store the tax returns, and came upon a cache of sickroom supplies.

— Anne Tyler, Digging to America

They looked then for the cave where the robbers might have cached banknotes and bars of gold.

— Annie Proulx, "The Governors of Wyoming," Close Range: Wyoming Stories


cachet (ka-sha')


1a. A mark or quality, as of distinction, individuality, or authenticity: "Federal courts have a certain cachet which state courts lack" (Christian Science Monitor).b. Great prestige or appeal: a designer label with cachet.2. A seal on a document, such as a letter.

[French cachet, seal, stamp of authenticity, distinctive character, from Middle French, seal: cacher, to press, squeeze (from Occitan cachar, from Old Provençal, from Latin coactare, to constrain; see cache (#9)) + -et, diminutive suffix (from Old French).]

SEE NOTE AT cache (#9).

Because it could be easily carved, ivory in the nineteenth century was a more rare and expensive version of what plastic is today, with the added cachet of having an exotic origin — a cachet that grew greater with the public idolization of African explorers.

— Adam Hochschild, King Leopold's Ghost


condemn (ken-dem')


1. To express strong disapproval of: condemned the needless waste of food.2. To pronounce judgment against; sentence: condemned the felons to prison.3. To judge or declare to be unfit for use or consumption, usually by official order: condemn an old building.4. To force someone to experience, endure, or do something: "No art critic likes to be condemned to a steady diet of second-rate stuff" (Ben Ray Redman).

[Middle English condemnen, from Old French condemner, from Latin condemnare: com, together (also used as an intensive prefix) + damnare, to sentence (from damnum, penalty).]

Condemn and contemn both involve the expression of disapproval, but there is a significant difference between the two. Condemn often means "to express strong disapproval of, declare unfit," as in The inspector condemned the lack of safety precautions. It also means "to pronounce judgment against; sentence," as in The judge condemned the felon to prison. By extension it means "to force someone to do or endure something," as in George Santayana's famous maxim "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." In origin, condemn is related to damnation. Both words derive from Latin damnum, meaning "injury, damage," and also "legal penalty."

Contemn, on the other hand, means "to despise, hold in contempt." In the sentence He contemned the wasteful society in which he lived, contemn simply describes the subject's attitude of scorn, whereas in the sentence He condemned the wasteful society in which he lived, condemn suggests that he voiced his disapproval openly or came to a realization of something he had only vaguely understood before. The verb contemn is also found in legal writing with the technical meaning "to display open disrespect or willful disobedience of the authority of a court of law or legislative body." (Contemner or contemnor, the agent noun formed from contemn, is sometimes found in the meaning "a person held in contempt of court.") Contemn is the verb corresponding to the noun contempt, and both words are ultimately derived from the Latin verb contemnere, "to despise, disdain."


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Table of Contents

Title Page,
Guide to the Entries,
Pronunciation Guide,
Pronunciation Key,
100 Words Almost Everyone Mixes Up or Mangles,
beyond the pale,
free rein,
no holds barred,
sleight of hand,
toe the line,
The 100 Words,

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