About the Book

What is the difference between cant and jargon, or assume and presume? What is a fandango? What’s the new name for Calcutta? How do you spell supersede? Boutros Boutros-Ghali? Is it hippy or hippie?

These questions really matter to Bill Bryson, ever since his days as a rookie subeditor on The Times back in the 1970s; and they matter to anyone who cares about the English language. Originally published as The Penguin Dictionary for Writers and Editors, Bryson’s Dictionary for Writers and Editors has now been completely revised and updated for the twenty-first century by Bill Bryson himself.

Here is a very personal selection of spellings and usages, covering such head-scratchers as capitalization, plurals, abbreviations and foreign names and phrases. Bryson also gives us the difference between British and American usages, and miscellaneous pieces of essential information you never knew you needed, like the names of all the Oxford colleges, or the new name for the Department of Trade and Industry – or the correct spelling of Brobdingnag.

An indispensable companion to all those who write, work with the written word, or just enjoy getting things right, it gives rulings that are both authoritative and commonsense, all in Bryson’s own inimitably good-humoured way.

About the Author

Bill Bryson’s acclaimed A Short History of Nearly Everything won the Aventis Prize for Science Books and the Descartes Science Communication Prize. He is much loved for his bestselling travel books, from The Lost Continent to Notes from a Small Island and Down Under, and he has also written books about language and Shakespeare. His latest bestsellers are a memoir, The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid, and At Home: A Short History of Private Life.

Also by Bill Bryson

The Lost Continent

Mother Tongue

Troublesome Words

Neither Here Nor There

Made in America

Notes from a Small Island

Notes from a Big Country

Down Under

African Diary

A Short History of Nearly Everything

The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid

Shakespeare (Eminent Lives Series)

At Home

Bryson’s Dictionary
for Writers and Editors

Bill Bryson

61–63 Uxbridge Road, London W5 5SA
A Random House Group Company

A BLACK SWAN BOOK: 9780552773539
Version 1.0 Epub ISBN: 9781407094397

First published in Great Britain in 1991 by Viking, as
The Penguin Dictionary for Writers and Editors
This revised edition first published in 2008 by Doubleday
a division of Transworld Publishers
Black Swan edition published 2008

Copyright © Bill Bryson 1991, 1994, 2008

Bill Bryson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.

This ebook is copyright material and must not be copied, reproduced, transferred, distributed, leased, licensed or publicly performed or used in any way except as specifically permitted in writing by the publishers, as allowed under the terms and conditions under which it was purchased or as strictly permitted by applicable copyright law. Any unauthorized distribution or use of this text may be a direct infringement of the author’s and publisher’s rights and those responsible may be liable in law accordingly.

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About the Book

Title Page






























Words ending in –able and –ible

Major airports

Temperature conversion table

Distance conversion table

Metric prefixes

Monarchs of England

Main units of currency


About the Author

Also by Bill Bryson



This book is intended as a quick, concise guide to the problems of English spelling and usage most commonly encountered by writers and editors. How do you spell supersede and broccoli and accessible? Do I write archaeology or archeology? What’s the difference between a cardinal number and an ordinal number? Is it Capital Reef National Park or Capitol Reef National Park? What did Belize use to be called? Doesn’t Calcutta have a new name now? (It does – Kolkata.) What do we now call the Chinese river that I knew in my schooldays as the Hwang-Ho? In short, what are the answers to all those points of written usage that you kind of know or ought to know but can’t quite remember?

It is a personal collection, built up over thirty years as a writer and editor in two countries, and so inevitably – inescapably – it reflects my own interests, experiences and blind spots. You may not need, as I do, to be reminded that it is Anjelica Huston but Whitney Houston, or have occasion at any point in your life to write the name of the district of Sydney known gloriously and unimprovably as Woolloomooloo. But I very much hope that what follows is broad enough and general enough to be frequently useful to nearly everyone.

To keep it simple, I have freely resorted to certain short cuts. Pronunciations have been simplified. I have scorned the International Phonetic Alphabet, with its dogged reliance on symbols such as θ, i: and Image on the grounds that hardly anyone readily comprehends them and instead have attempted to convert tricky pronunciations into straightforward phonetic equivalents. Often these are intended as no more than rough guides – anyone who has ever heard the throat-clearing noise that is a Dutchman pronouncing ‘’s-Gravenhage’ (the formal name of The Hague) will realize what a feebly approximate thing my suggested version is – and I unhesitatingly apologize for any shortcomings in this respect. Where pronunciation guidance is given – for instance, for the Spanish poet Vicente Aleixandre – the stress mark (´) appears after the stressed syllable: ah-lay-hahn´-dray.

I have also been forced on occasion to be arbitrary over spelling. Dictionaries are sometimes remarkably out of step with the rest of the world on certain matters of usage and orthography – in this respect I can cite no better example than the Oxford English Dictionary’s interesting but lonely insistence that Shakespeare should be spelled Shakspere – but there is usually a rough consensus, which I have sought to follow, though I try always to note alternatives when they are freely accepted.

I have tried also to keep cross-references to a minimum. In my view one of the more grating irritants of research is to hunt through several pages looking for ‘Khayyám, Omar’ only to be told: ‘See Omar Khayyám’. So I have frequently put such information not only where it should be but also where a hurried reader might mistakenly look for it. The price for this is a certain repetition, for which I additionally apologize.

Some issues of style – whether you should write shopkeeper or shop-keeper, for instance – have been deliberately excluded. Such matters often are so overwhelmingly a question of preference, house style or fashion that my choices would be simply that: my choices. I would suggest that in such instances you should choose what seems most sensible, and strive to be consistent.

In the updating and typing of this new edition, I am hugely indebted to Meghan Bryson and Felicity Bryson Gould, respectively my daughter-in-law and daughter, for their unstinting and good-natured help. I am also much indebted to my editors Marianne Velmans and Deborah Adams for a thousand improvements to the text and countless errors caught. As always, my most special thanks to my dear wife, Cynthia, for her patience and support throughout.



a, an Errors involving the indefinite articles a and an are almost certainly more often a consequence of haste and carelessness than of ignorance. They are especially common when numbers are involved, as here: ‘Cox will contribute 10 per cent of the equity needed to build a £80 million cable system’ or ‘He was assisted initially by two officers from the sheriff’s department and a FBI agent.’ When the first letter of an abbreviation is pronounced as a vowel, as in ‘FBI’, the preceding article should be an, not a.

Aachen, Germany in French, Aix-la-Chapelle

Aalto, Alvar (1898–1976) Finnish architect and designer

Aarhus city in Denmark. In Danish, Århus

abacus, pl. abacuses

abaft towards the stern, or rear, of a ship


Abbas, Mahmoud (1935– ) President of Palestinian National Authority 2005–

Abbot’s Salford, Warwickshire

ABC American Broadcasting Companies (note plural), though the full title is no longer spelled out. It is now part of the Walt Disney Company. The television network is ABC-TV.

abdomen, but abdominal

Abdulaziz International Airport, King, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

Aberdonian of or from Aberdeen

Aberfan coal-mining village in Mid-Glamorgan, scene of 1966 landslide in which 144 people died

Abergavenny, Gwent pronounced ab-er-guh-ven´-nee for the town, but ab-er-ghen´-nee for the Marquess of Abergavenny

aberrant departing from the normal standard; the noun is aberration

Aberystwyth, Ceredigion


Abidjan capital of Côte d’Ivoire

ab incunabulis (Lat.) from the cradle

abiogenesis the concept that living matter can arise from non-living matter; spontaneous generation

abjure solemnly renounce. See also ADJURE.

-able In adding this suffix to a verb, the general rule is to drop a silent e (livable, lovable) except after a soft g (manageable) or sibilant c (peaceable). When a verb ends with a consonant and a y (justify, indemnify) change the y to i before adding -able (justifiable, indemnifiable). Verbs ending in -ate drop that syllable before adding -able (appreciable, demonstrable).

-able/-ible There are no reliable rules for knowing when a word ends in -able and when in -ible; see the Appendix for a list of some of the more frequently confused spellings.

ab origine (Lat.) from the beginning



abrogate to abolish, do away with

Absalom in the Old Testament, third son of David

Absalom, Absalom! novel by William Faulkner (1936)

Absaroka Range, Rocky Mountains, North America


abseil to descend a rockface by means of a rope; the North American term is rappel

absinthe an aniseed-flavoured liqueur

absquatulate (mock Lat.) to depart in haste


Abu Dhabi capital city of and state in the United Arab Emirates

Abuja capital of Nigeria

Abu Simbel, Egypt site of temples built by Rameses II

abyss, abyssal, but abysmal

Abyssinia former name of Ethiopia


Académie française French literary society whose 40 members act as guardians of the French language; in English contexts, Française is usually capitalized

Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences institution responsible for the Oscars

a cappella singing without instrumental accompaniment

Acapulco, Mexico officially, Acapulco de Juárez

ACAS Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (UK)

Accademia della Crusca Italian literary academy




acciaccatura grace note in music

accidentally, not -tly


accommodate very often misspelled: note -cc-, -mm-

accompanist, not -iest

accoutrement (US accouterment)

Accra capital of Ghana

Accrington, Lancashire

Acheson, Dean (1893–1971) American diplomat and politician, Secretary of State 1949–53

Achilles King of the Myrmidons, most famous of the Greek heroes of the Trojan War

Achilles heel, Achilles tendon

Achnashellach Station, Highland

acidulous, assiduous Acidulous means tart or acid; assiduous means diligent.


Acland, Sir Antony (1930– ) British diplomat

acolyte, not -ite

Aconcagua, Cerro mountain in the Andes in Argentina, highest peak (at 22,835 feet/6,960 metres) in the western hemisphere

Açores Portuguese spelling of Azores

acoustics As a science, the word is singular (‘Acoustics was his line of work’). As a collection of properties, it is plural (‘The acoustics in the auditorium were not good’).

acquiesce, acquiescence

acquit, acquittal, acquitted

acre a unit of land measuring 43,560 square feet, 4,840 square yards; equivalent to 4,047 square metres, 0.405 hectare

acronym is a word formed from the initial letter or letters of a group of words, as in NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization).

acrostic writing in which the first, and sometimes the last, letter of each line spells a word when read vertically; a type of word game based on the same principle

Actaeon in Greek mythology, a hunter who is turned into a stag by Artemis (the Roman Diana) after he spies her bathing

activity often a sign of prolixity, as here: ‘The warnings followed a week of earthquake activity throughout the region.’ Just make it ‘a week of earthquakes’.

acute, chronic These two are sometimes confused, which is a little odd as their meanings are sharply opposed. Chronic pertains to lingering conditions, ones that are not easily overcome. Acute refers to those that come to a sudden crisis and require immediate attention. People in the Third World may suffer from a chronic shortage of food. In a bad year, their plight may become acute.

AD anno domini (Lat.) ‘the year of the Lord’. AD should be written before the year (AD 25) but after the century (4th century AD) and is usually set in small caps. See also ANNO DOMINI and BC.

adage Even the most careful users of English frequently, but unnecessarily, refer to an ‘old adage’. An adage is by definition old.

adagio slowly; slow movement; pl. adagios

adapter, adaptor The first is one who adapts, e.g., a book for theatrical presentation; the second is the device for making appliances work abroad and so on.

Addams, Charles (1912–88) American cartoonist, long associated with the New Yorker

Addams, Jane (1860–1935) American social activist and reformer; Nobel Peace Prize 1931

Addenbrooke’s Hospital, Cambridge

addendum, pl. addenda

Addis Ababa capital of Ethiopia

adduceable capable of being proved

Adenauer, Konrad (1876–1967) West German Chancellor 1949–63

adenoid, adenoidal

ad hoc (Lat.) towards this, for a particular purpose

ad infinitum (Lat.) without limit, to infinity

Adirondack Mountains, US


adjure solemnly urge. See also ABJURE.

ad lib., ad libitum (Lat.) ‘at will’. Note full stop after lib. To adlib is to speak in public without preparing in advance.

ad loc., ad locum (Lat.) ‘at the place’. Note full stop after loc.

administer not administrate

Admiral’s Cup series of yachting races held every two years

admissible, but admittable

admit to is nearly always wrong. You admit a misdeed, you do not admit to it.

ad nauseam (Lat.) not -um; to the point of nausea

ado, without further a cliché; best avoided

adrenalin is the preferred spelling, but adrenaline is accepted.

advance planning is common but always redundant. All planning must be done in advance.

adverse, averse Averse means reluctant or disinclined (think of aversion). Adverse means hostile and antagonistic (think of adversary).

adviser, but advisory

advocaat a liqueur

Aeaea in Greek mythology, the island inhabited by Circe

Aegean Sea area of the Mediterranean between Greece, Turkey and Crete

Aegina town and island off the south-eastern coast of Greece

Aeneid epic poem by Virgil

Aeolian Islands group of islands off north-eastern Sicily; also called Lipari Islands

Aeolus Greek god of winds

aeon (US eon)


Aer Lingus Irish airline

Aerolíneas Argentinas




Aérospatiale French aviation company

aerosphere one of the lower levels of the atmosphere

Aeschylus (c. 525–c. 450 BC) Greek playwright

Aesculapius (Lat.)/Asclepius (Grk) Roman and Greek god of medicine

aesthetic is normally the preferred spelling, though esthetic is acceptable in the US.

Afars and Issas, French Territory of former name of Djibouti

affaire de coeur (Fr.) love affair

affaire d’honneur (Fr.) a duel

affect, effect As a verb, affect means to influence (‘Smoking may affect your health’) or to adopt a pose or manner (‘He affected ignorance’). Effect as a verb means to accomplish (‘The prisoners effected an escape’). As a noun, the word needed is almost always effect (as in ‘personal effects’ or ‘the damaging effects of war’). Affect as a noun has a narrow psychological meaning to do with emotional states (by way of which it is related to affection).

affenpinscher breed of dog

affettuoso in music, play with feeling


affinity denotes a mutual relationship. Strictly, one should not speak of someone or something having an affinity for another, but rather with or between.

affrettando in music, speeding up

affright Note -ff-.

aficionado, pl. aficionados

AFL-CIO American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations

à fond (Fr.) thoroughly

a fortiori (Lat.) with even stronger reason, all the more so

Afrikaans, Afrikaners The first is a language; the second a group of people.

Afwerki, Issaias (or Isaias) (1946– ) President of Eritrea 1993–

Ag argentum (Lat.) chemical symbol for silver

AG, Aktiengesellschaft (Ger.) roughly equivalent to Inc.

Agamemnon in Greek mythology, king of Argos and commander of the Greek army in the Trojan War; also the title of a play by Aeschylus, the first part of the Oresteia trilogy

Agassiz, (Jean) Louis (Rodolphe) (1807–73) Swiss-born American naturalist

à gauche (Fr.) to the left


agent provocateur, pl. agents provocateurs

aggravate, strictly, means to make a bad situation worse. If you walk on a broken leg, you may aggravate the injury. People can never be aggravated, only circumstances.

aggression, aggressiveness Aggression always denotes hostility. Aggressiveness can denote hostility or merely boldness.


Agincourt, Battle of (1415)

agoraphobia fear of open spaces

AGR advanced gas-cooled reactor, a type of nuclear power station

Agra, India site of Taj Mahal


Aguascalientes city and state in central Mexico

Aguilera, Christina (1980– ) American singer

Agusta, not Aug-; formally, Gruppo Agusta; Italian helicopter company

Ahmadinejad, Mahmoud (1956– ) President of Iran 2005–

à huis clos (Fr.) behind closed doors

Ah, Wilderness! comedy by Eugene O’Neill (1933)

aid and abet A tautological gift from the legal profession. The two words together tell us nothing that either doesn’t say on its own. The only distinction is that abet is normally reserved for contexts involving criminal intent. Thus it would be careless to speak of a benefactor abetting the construction of a church or youth club.

aide-de-camp, pl. aides-de-camp


AIDS is not correctly described as a disease. It is a medical condition. The term is short for acquired immune deficiency syndrome.

aiguillette ornamental braid worn on the shoulder of a uniform

Ailesbury, Marquess of, but the town in Buckinghamshire is Aylesbury

Aintree, Merseyside site of the Grand National racecourse


Airbus Industrie European aircraft manufacturer, now called Airbus SAS; it is a subsidiary of EADS NV

Airedale (cap.) a breed of terrier, named after the valley in Yorkshire

Air France-KLM Franco-Dutch airline formed from merger of two national carriers in 2004

Air Line Pilots Association for the group that looks after the interests of American commercial pilots. BALPA performs the same function in the UK.

Airy, George Biddell (1801–92) English astronomer

Aix-en-Provence (hyphens), France

Aix-la-Chapelle (hyphens) French name for Aachen, Germany

Aix-les-Bains (hyphens), France

Ajaccio capital of Corsica and birthplace of Napoleon

AK postal abbr. of Alaska

AL postal abbr. of Alabama

à la The adjectival forms of proper nouns in French do not take capital letters after à la: à la française, à la russe, à la lyonnaise.



Alamein, El Egyptian village that gave its name to two battles of the Second World War

Alamogordo, New Mexico site of first atomic bomb explosion

Alanbrooke, Alan Francis Brooke, Viscount (1883–1963) British field marshal

A la recherche du temps perdu novel by Marcel Proust, published in English as Remembrance of Things Past

‘Alas! poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio,’ is the correct version of the quotation from Hamlet

Alaska Airlines, not Alaskan

Albigenses, Albigensians religious sect during 11th to 13th centuries, also known as Cathars

Albright, Madeleine (1937– ) Czech-born American diplomat and academic

albumen, albumin Albumen is the white of an egg; albumin is a protein within the albumen.

Albuquerque, New Mexico

Alcaeus (fl.c. 600 BC) Greek poet

Alcatraz island, former prison, in San Francisco Bay

Alcibiades (c. 450–404 BC) Athenian statesman and general

Alcock, Sir John William (1892–1919) British aviator who with Sir Arthur Whitten Brown (1886–1948) was the first to fly non-stop across the Atlantic (1919)

Alcott, Louisa May (1833–88) American writer

Aleixandre, Vicente (1898–1984) Spanish poet, awarded Nobel Prize for Literature 1977; pronounced ah-lay-hahn´-dray.

Aleutian Islands, Alaska


Alfa-Romeo for the Italian make of automobile

Al-Fatah Palestinian political organization. Drop Al- when it is preceded by an article (‘a Fatah spokesman’, ‘the Fatah organization’).

Alfredsson, Daniel (1972– ) Swedish ice hockey player

Alfredsson, Helen (1965– ) Swedish professional golfer

alfresco (one word)

algae is plural; a single organism is an alga.

Algonquin Hotel, New York; Algonquin Indians


Ali, Muhammad (1942– ) born Cassius Marcellus Clay; American heavyweight boxer, three times world champion

à l’italienne (Fr., no caps) ‘in the Italian style’

alkali, pl. alkalis, alkalies

al-Khwarizmi, Muhammad ibn-Musa (c. 780–850) Arab mathematician, often called the father of algebra

Allahabad city in Uttar Pradesh, India

allege, allegedly, allegation

Allegheny Mountains and Allegheny River, but Alleghany Corporation and Allegany for the town, county, Indian reservation and state park in New York. The plural of the mountains is Alleghenies. In short, there is huge variation in the spelling from place to place, so double-check.

Allenby, Edmund Henry Hynman, Viscount (1861–1936) British general

Allende, Salvador (1908–73) President of Chile 1970–3

All God’s Chillun Got Wings play by Eugene O’Neill (1924)

Allhallowmass (one word) alternative name for All Saints’ Day, 1 November

Allhallows, Kent

all intents and purposes is a tautology; use just ‘to all intents’.

All Nippon Airways, not -lines

allophone in Canadian usage, someone who does not speak French

allot, allotted, allotting, allottable

all right, not alright

All Saints’ Day 1 November

All Souls College, University of Oxford

All Souls’ Day 2 November

all time Many authorities object to this expression in constructions such as ‘She was almost certainly the greatest female sailor of all time’ (Daily Telegraph) on the grounds that all time extends to the future as well as the past and we cannot possibly know what lies ahead. A no less pertinent consideration is that such assessments, as in the example just cited, are bound to be hopelessly subjective and therefore have no place in any measured argument. (There is a similar problem with futurity in the use of ‘ever’.)

allusion ‘When the speaker happened to name Mr Gladstone, the allusion was received with loud cheers’ (cited by Fowler). The word is not, as many suppose, a more impressive synonym for reference. When you allude to something, you do not specifically mention it, but leave it to the reader to deduce the subject. Thus it would be correct to write, ‘In an allusion to the President, he said: “Some people make better oil men than politicians.”’ The word is closer in meaning to implication or suggestion.

Allyson, June (1917–2006) American film actress, real name Ella Geisman

Al Manāmah/Al Manama capital of Bahrain

Almaty largest city in Kazakhstan. The capital is Astana.

Almodóvar, Pedro (1949– ) Spanish film-maker

Alnwick, Northumberland pronounced ann´-ick

Alpes-de-Haute-Provence département of France

Al Qaeda (from the Arabic al-qā’ida) is the most common spelling in English for the terrorist group, but there are many variants, including commonly Al Qaida, al-Qaeda and al-Qaida.

Al Qahirah/El Qahira Arabic name for Cairo

alright is never correct; make it all right.

ALS amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, muscle-wasting disease. Also known as motor neurone disease. In the US it is called Lou Gehrig’s disease, after the baseball player who suffered from it.

Alsatian (cap.) common UK name for breed of dog officially called German Shepherd

altar, alter The first is a table used in worship, the second means to change.

altercation is a heated exchange of words. If blows are traded or shoving is involved, it is not properly an altercation.

Althing parliament of Iceland

although, though The two are interchangeable except as an adverb placed after the verb, where only though is correct, and in the expressions as though and even though, where idiom precludes although.

altocumulus, altostratus (one word) for types of cloud

aluminium (US aluminum)

alumnae, alumni Alumni is the masculine plural for a collection of college graduates. In the context of an all-female institution, the correct word is alumnae. The singular forms are alumna (fem.) and alumnus (masc.).

alyssum border plant

Alzheimer’s disease, but in formal medical contexts the non-possessive form Alzheimer disease is increasingly used instead

a.m./AM, ante meridiem (Lat.) before midday

Amalienborg Palace, Copenhagen residence of the Danish royal family

amanuensis one who takes dictation; pl. amanuenses

amaretto liqueur; pl. amarettos

Amarillo, Texas

amaryllis plant with trumpet-shaped flowers

Ambassadors Theatre, London (no apos.)

ambergris substance used in the manufacture of perfumes

ambidextrous, not -erous


ambiguous, equivocal Both mean vague and open to more than one interpretation. But whereas an ambiguous statement may be vague by accident or by intent, an equivocal one is calculatedly unclear.

Amenhotep name of four kings in the 18th dynasty of ancient Egypt

America’s Cup yacht races

americium (not cap.) chemical element

AmeriCorps voluntary service organization

AmerisourceBergen (one word) US pharmaceutical supply company

Améthyste, Côte d’, France

Amharic Semitic language; official tongue of Ethiopia

amicus curiae (Lat.) ‘friend of the court’; pl. amici curiae

amid, among Among applies to things that can be separated and counted, amid to things that cannot. Rescuers might search among survivors, but amid wreckage.

amniocentesis the withdrawing of amniotic fluid from a pregnant woman’s uterus

amoeba, pl. amoebas/amoebae (US ameba, pl. amebas/ amebae)

à moitié (Fr.) in part, halfway

amok is generally the preferred spelling, but amuck is an accepted alternative.

among, between A few authorities insist that among applies to more than two things and between to only two. But by this logic you would have to say that St Louis is among California, New York and Michigan, not between them. In so far as the two words can be distinguished, among should be applied to collective arrangements (trade talks among the members of the European Union) and between to reciprocal arrangements (a treaty between the UK, the US and Canada).

amoral, immoral Amoral describes matters in which questions of morality do not arise or are disregarded; immoral applies to things that are evil.

amour-propre (Fr.) self-respect

Ampère, André Marie (1775–1836) French physicist; the unit of electricity named after him is the ampere (no cap., no accent)


amphibian, amphibious

Amphitryon In Greek mythology, a Mycenaean king whose wife, Alcmene, gave birth to Hercules after Zeus tricked her into sleeping with him

amphora, pl. amphorae (or amphoras)

ampoule is the preferred spelling; ampule is also accepted.

Amtrak American passenger railway company. The company’s formal designation is the National Railroad Passenger Corporation, but this is almost never used, even on first reference.

Amundsen, Roald (1872–1928) Norwegian explorer, first person to reach the South Pole (1911)

Anacreon (c. 563–c. 478 BC) Greek poet

anaesthesia, anaesthetic (US anesthesia, anesthetic) The doctor who administers anaesthetics is an anaesthetist in the UK, an anesthesiologist in the US.

analogous comparable in some way

analyse (US analyze)

anathema, pl. anathemas

Anaxagoras (c. 500–428 BC) Greek philosopher

Anaximander (c. 611–c. 547 BC) Greek philosopher

ancien régime (Fr.) the old order


Andalusia region of Spain. In Spanish, Andalucía

Andersen, Hans Christian (1805–75) Danish writer of children’s tales. Not -son

Anderson, Marian (1897–1993) celebrated contralto

Andhra Pradesh Indian state

Andorra is a principality; the capital is Andorra la Vella.

Andrejewski, Jerzy (1909–83) Polish novelist

Andretti, Mario (1940– ) American racing driver

Andrewes, Lancelot (1555–1626) English scholar and prelate, one of the principal translators of the King James Bible

Andrews Air Force Base (no apos.), Maryland

androgenous, androgynous The first applies to the production of male offspring; the second means having both male and female characteristics.

Andromache in Greek mythology, the wife of Hector

Androscoggin county, river and lake in Maine, US


Anfinsen, Christian B. (for Boehmer) (1916–95) American biochemist, awarded Nobel Prize for Chemistry 1972

anfractuosity having many turns

Angelico, Fra (1387–1455) Florentine painter, also known as Fra Giovanni da Fiesole

Angkor complex of ruins in Cambodia. Angkor Wat is a single temple within the compound.

Angleterre French for England

anglicize (lower case)

Anglo American PLC South African mining conglomerate now based in London; Anglo American is spelled as two words, no hyphen

angora, Angora The first is a type of wool; the second is the former name of Ankara, Turkey.

Angostura bitters

angstrom/ångström abbr. Å; unit used to measure wavelengths of light, and equal to one ten-billionth of a metre; named for Anders Ångström (1814–74), Swedish physicist

Anheuser-Busch US brewery

Anhui Chinese province, formerly spelled Anhwei

Aniakchak National Monument and Preserve, Alaska

animus, but animosity Both mean hostility, but animosity is stronger than animus.

aniseed a flavourful seed

anisette a drink flavoured with aniseed

Ankara capital of Turkey

Annabessacook, Lake, Maine

Annapolis capital of Maryland

Annapurna a cluster of mountains in the Himalayas, of which the highest peak is Annapurna I (26,545 feet/8,091 metres)

Ann Arbor, Michigan home of the University of Michigan

Anne Arundel County, Maryland

Anne of Cleves (1515–57) fourth wife of Henry VIII

annex, annexe In the UK, the first is the verb and the second the noun. In the US, both noun and verb are spelled annex.

Annieopsquotch Mountains, Newfoundland, Canada


Ann-Margret (1941– ) American actress, born Ann-Margret Olsson; note hyphen and irregular spelling Margret

anno domini (Lat.) ‘the year of the Lord’; see also AD

annus mirabilis (Lat.) remarkable year

anomaly, anomalous

anonymous, anonymity

Anouilh, Jean (1910–87) French playwright; pronounced an’-oo-ee


Anschluss (Ger.) a union; particularly applied to that of Germany and Austria in 1938

Antananarivo capital of Madagascar

Antassawamock Neck, Massachusetts

ante bellum (Lat.) ‘before the war’; especially applied to the period before the American Civil War

antecedence, antecedents Antecedence means precedence; antecedents are ancestors or other things that have gone before.

antediluvian antiquated, primitive

ante meridiem (Lat.) ‘before midday’, abbr. a.m./AM; not to be confused with antemeridian (one word), meaning of or taking part in the morning

antennae, antennas Either is correct as the plural of antenna, but generally antennae is preferred for living organisms (‘a beetle’s antennae’) and antennas for man-made objects (‘radio antennas made possible the discovery of quarks’).

anticipate To anticipate something is to look ahead to it and prepare for it, not to make a reasonable estimate. A tennis player who anticipates his opponent’s next shot doesn’t just guess where it is going to go, he is there to meet it.

Anti-Defamation League

Antigone in Greek mythology, the daughter of Oedipus; also the title of a play by Sophocles

Antigua and Barbuda Caribbean state; capital St John’s

antipasto (It.) appetizer, hors-d’oeuvre; pl. antipasti

Antipodean of Australia or New Zealand

antirrhinum note -rr-; a flower, also known as snapdragon

Antofagasta, Chile

Antonioni, Michelangelo (1912–2007) Italian film director

Antony and Cleopatra, not Anthony play by Shakespeare (c. 1606)

Antwerpen the Flemish name for Antwerp, Belgium; the French name is Anvers

anxious Since anxious comes from anxiety, it should contain some connotation of being worried or fearful and not merely eager or expectant.

any A tricky word at times, as here: ‘This paper isn’t very good, but neither is any of the others.’ A simple and useful principle is to make the verb always correspond to the complement. Thus: ‘neither is any other’ or ‘neither are any of the others’.

anybody, anyone, anything, anywhere Anything and anywhere are always one word. The others are normally one word except when the emphasis is on the second element (e.g., ‘He received three job offers, but any one would have suited him’). Anybody and anyone are singular and should be followed by singular pronouns and verbs. A common fault – so common, in fact, that some no longer consider it a fault – is seen here: ‘Anyone can relax so long as they don’t care whether they or anyone else ever actually gets anything done.’ The problem, clearly, is that a plural pronoun (‘they’) is being attached to a singular verb (‘gets’). Such constructions may in fact be fully defensible, at least some of the time, though you should at least know why you are breaking a rule when you break it.

any more, any time Both are always two words.

ANZAC Australian and New Zealand Army Corps

ANZUS Pact 1951 security treaty between Australia, New Zealand and the United States

AONB area of outstanding natural beauty (UK)

à outrance (Fr.), not à l’outrance; to the very last, to the death

Apalachicola Florida river

Apeldoorn, Netherlands

Apennines for the Italian mountain range. Note -nn- in middle. In Italian, Appennini

aperitif, pl. aperitifs

Apfelstrudel (Ger.) apple strudel


apocalypse, apocalyptic

apogee the highest or most distant point, usually in reference to orbiting bodies. Its opposite is perigee.

Apollinaire, Guillaume (1880–1918) born Wilhelm Apollinaris de Kostrowitzky; French writer and critic

Apollo Greek god of light, son of Zeus

‘Apologie for Poetrie, An’ title of an essay by Sir Philip Sidney, also published as ‘The Defence of Poesie’ (1595)

aposiopesis, pl. aposiopeses the sudden breaking off of a thought or statement

apostasy, pl. apostasies the abandoning of one’s faith

apostatize renounce a belief

a posteriori (Lat.) ‘from what is after’; in logic, moving from effect to cause, reasoning from experience

apothegm a witty or pithy maxim; the g is silent

apotheosis, pl. apotheoses deification (generally used figuratively)

Appalachian Mountains, eastern US

Appaloosa breed of horse

apparatchik party functionary, especially of the Communist Party



appellant, appellate The first is a person who appeals against a court ruling; the second describes a court at which appeals are heard.

appendices, appendixes Either is correct.

Apple Mac


appoggiatura in music, an accented non-harmonized note that precedes a harmonized note

Appomattox town in Virginia where the Confederacy surrendered to the Union to end the American Civil War (9 April 1865)

appraise, apprise Appraise means to assess or evaluate. Apprise means to inform. An insurance assessor appraises damage and apprises owners.

appreciate has a slightly more specific meaning than writers sometimes give it. If you appreciate something, you value it (‘I appreciate your concern’) or you understand it sympathetically (‘I appreciate your predicament’). But when there is no sense of sympathy or value (as in ‘I appreciate what you are saying, but I don’t agree with it’) understand or recognize or the like would be better.


après-midi (Fr.) afternoon

après-ski (Fr., hyphen) the period after a day’s skiing

April Fool’s Day (UK)/April Fools’ Day (US)

a principio (Lat.) from the beginning

a priori (Lat.) from what is before; in logic, an argument proceeding from cause to effect

apropos in French, à propos

Apuleius, Lucius (fl. 2nd c. AD) Roman satirist

Apulia region of Italy known in Italian as Puglia

Aqaba, Gulf of an arm of the Red Sea. Aqaba is also the name of a town in Jordan.

aqua vitae (Lat.) water of life; used to describe whiskies and other alcoholic spirits

aqueduct, but aquifer The first is a bridge carrying water across a valley, the second a mass of rock capable of holding water.

aquiline like an eagle

Aquinas, St Thomas (1225–74) Italian theologian, canonized 1323

à quoi bon? (Fr.) what for? what’s the point?

AR postal abbr. of Arkansas; not Arizona, which is AZ

arabic numerals (no cap.)

Arafat, Yasser (1929–2004) born Mohammed Abdel-Raouf Arafat; leader of the Palestine Liberation Organization 1969–2004, awarded Nobel Peace Prize 1994

Aramaic Semitic language

Aran Island and Aran Islands (Ireland) but Isle of Arran (Scotland) The sweater is spelled Aran.

Arc de Triomphe, Paris officially, Arc de Triomphe de l’Étoile

arc-en-ciel (Fr.) rainbow; pl. arcs-en-ciel

archaea type of unicellular organisms

archaeology is normally preferred, but archeology is accepted (and is standard in the US).

archaic, archaism


Archilochus of Paros (c. 714–c. 676 BC) Greek poet

Archimedes (c. 287–212 BC) Greek mathematician and engineer

archipelago, pl. archipelagos

Arctic Circle, Arctic Ocean, but arctic fox (no cap.)

Ardennes wooded plateau in southern Belgium, north-eastern France and Luxembourg

Ardizzone, Edward Jeffrey Irving (1900–79) British illustrator

Arezzo, Italy


Århus (Dan.)/Aarhus city in Denmark

Aristides (c. 530–c. 468 BC) Athenian statesman

Aristophanes (c. 448–c. 380 BC) Greek dramatist

armadillo, pl. armadillos




Armenia formerly part of Soviet Union, capital Yerevan

armour (US armor)

aroma applies only to agreeable smells; there is no such thing as a bad aroma.

Aroostook River, Maine and New Brunswick

Arran, Isle of Scotland. See also ARAN ISLAND.

arrière-pensée (Fr.) ulterior motive, mental reservation

arrivederci (It.) goodbye

arriviste disagreeably ambitious person

Arrol-Johnston British automobile of early 1900s

arrondissement principal division of French départements and some larger cities

Arrows of the Chace, not Chase letters by John Ruskin (1881)

artefact (US artifact) The word should be applied only to things fashioned by humans, not to animal bones, fossils or other naturally occurring objects.

Artemis Greek goddess of the moon, associated with hunting. The Roman equivalent is Diana.


Arthur Andersen, not -son accountancy firm


Aruba Caribbean island, a self-governing dependency of the Netherlands; capital Oranjestad

Asahi Shimbun Japanese newspaper

as … as ‘A government study concludes that for trips of 500 miles or less … automotive travel is as fast or faster than air travel, door to door’ (George Will, syndicated columnist). The problem here is what is termed an incomplete alternative comparison. If we remove the ‘or faster than’ phrase from the sentence, the problem becomes immediately evident: ‘A government study concludes that for trips of 500 miles or less … automotive travel is as fast air travel, door to door.’ The writer has left the ‘as fast’ phrase dangling uncompleted. The sentence should say ‘as fast as or faster than air travel’.

ascendancy, ascendant

ASCII short for American Standard Code for Information Interchange; computer terminology

Asclepius Use Aesculapius.

Asea Brown Boveri Swedish-Swiss electrical equipment company, now ABB

ASEAN Association of South East Asian Nations, formed 1967; members are Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar/Burma, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam


as far as is commonly misused, as here: ‘As far as next season, it is too early to make forecasts’ (Baltimore Sun). The error here has been exercising authorities since at least Fowler’s heyday and shows no sign of abating, either as a problem or as something that exercises authorities. The trouble is that ‘as far as’ serves as a conjunction and as such requires a following verb. The solution is either to remove the conjunction (‘As for next season, it is too early to make forecasts’) or to supply the needed verb (‘As far as next season goes, it is too early to make forecasts’).

Ashbery, John (1927– ) American poet and critic

Ashby de la Zouch, Leicestershire (no hyphens)

Asheville, North Carolina

Ashgabat capital of Turkmenistan; also sometimes spelled Ashkhabad

Ashkenazi an East or Central European Jew; pl. Ashkenazim

Ashkenazy, Vladimir (1937– ) Russian-born Icelandic pianist and conductor

Ashmolean Museum, Oxford

Ashuapmuchuan River, Quebec, Canada

Asimov, Isaac (1920–92) American biochemist and prolific science-fiction writer


ASLEF Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen, a UK trade union

Asmara (formerly Asmera) capital of Eritrea


Assad, Bashar (1965– ) President of Syria 2000– ; succeeded his father, Hafez Assad (1928–2000)

assagai, assegai Either spelling is correct for the African spear.



Assateague Island, Maryland and Virginia

assault, battery They are not the same in law. Assault is a threat of violence; battery is actual violence.


asseverate to declare

Assiniboine River, Manitoba, Canada

assiduous, acidulous Assiduous means diligent; acidulous means tart or acid.

Assisi town in Umbria, birthplace of St Francis

assonance words that rhyme in consonants but not vowels (e.g., cat and kit) or in vowels but not consonants (e.g., bun and sponge)

assuage, assuaging

assume, presume The two words are often so close in meaning as to be indistinguishable, but in some contexts they do allow a fine distinction to be made. Assume, in the sense of ‘to suppose’, normally means to put forth a realistic hypothesis, something that can be taken as probable (‘I assume we will arrive by midnight’). Presume has more of an air of sticking one’s neck out, of making an assertion that may be arguable or wrong (‘I presume we have met before?’). But in most instances the two words can be used interchangeably.

as to whether Whether alone is sufficient.

AstraZeneca pharmaceutical company

AstroTurf (one word) is a trademark.

Asunción capital of Paraguay

asymmetry, asymmetric, asymmetrical

Atatürk, Mustapha Kemal (1881–1938) Turkish leader and President 1923–38

Atchafalaya Louisiana river and bay

Athenaeum London club and other British contexts, but Atheneum for the US publisher

Athene Greek goddess of wisdom

Athinai Greek spelling of Athens

ATM automated teller machine

à tout prix (Fr.) at any price


Attawapiskat Canadian river

Attenborough, Richard, Lord (1923– ) British film actor and director; brother of Sir David Attenborough (1926– ), zoologist and TV presenter

Attila (c. 405–53) king of the Huns

Attlee, Clement (1883–1967) British Prime Minister 1945–51; later appointed Earl Attlee

attorney-general, pl. attorneys-general


Atwater, (Harvey) Lee (1951–91) US Republican political adviser

Atwood, Margaret (1939– ) Canadian novelist

Au aurum (Lat.) chemical symbol for gold

aubergine (US eggplant)

au besoin (Fr.) if need be

aubrietia flowering plant named after Claude Aubriet (1655–1742), French painter

Auchincloss, Louis (Stanton) (1917– ) American novelist

Auchinleck family name of James Boswell; pronounced aff-leck

Auden, W. H. (for Wystan Hugh) (1907–73) Anglo-American poet


Audubon, John James (1785–1851) American artist and naturalist

au fait (Fr.) to be in the know

au fond (Fr.) basically, at the bottom

auf Wiedersehen (Ger.) goodbye, until we meet again

auger, augur An auger is a tool for boring holes in wood or soil; an augur is a prophet or soothsayer. The two words are not related.

‘Auld Lang Syne’ (Scot.) literally ‘old long since’; traditional end-of-year song with words by Robert Burns

Auld Reekie (Scot.) Old Smoky; nickname for Edinburgh

Aumann, Robert J. (1930– ) Israeli-American academic; awarded Nobel Prize for Economics 2005

au mieux (Fr.) for the best, at best

au naturel (Fr.) in the natural state

Ausable River, Ausable Chasm, New York State

Au Sable River, Au Sable Point, Michigan

Auschwitz German concentration camp in Poland during the Second World War. In Polish, Oświęcim

au secours (Fr.) a cry for help

Ausländer (Ger.) foreigner

auspicious does not mean simply special or memorable. It means propitious, promising, of good omen.

Austral (adj.) of or relating to Australia or Australasia

austral (adj.) southern

austral (noun) former currency of Argentina, pl. australes

Australia, Commonwealth of, is divided into six states (New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania, Victoria, Western Australia) and two territories (Australian Capital Territory, Northern Territory). The latter two should not be referred to as states.

autarchy, autarky The first means absolute power, an autocracy; the second denotes self-sufficiency. However, neither word is well known, and in almost every instance an English synonym would bring an improvement in comprehension, if not in elegance.

Auteuil, Daniel (1950– ) prolific French actor

autobahn (Ger.) express motorway. The English plural is autobahns; the German is Autobahnen.

auto-da-fé execution of heretics during the Inquisition; pl. autos-da-fé

autostrada (It.) express motorway; pl. autostrade

Auvergne region of France

auxiliary, not -ll-


avenge, revenge Generally, avenge indicates the settling of a score or the redressing of an injustice. It is more dispassionate than revenge, which indicates retaliation taken largely for the sake of personal satisfaction.

Avenue of the Americas, New York City. Often still referred to as Sixth Avenue, its former name

avocado, pl. avocados

avocation work done for personal satisfaction rather than need, usually in addition to a normal job

avoirdupois weights the system of weights traditionally used throughout the English-speaking world, based on one pound equalling 16 ounces

Avon former county of England, abolished 1996; also the name of several rivers in England, and the title of the former Prime Minister Anthony Eden (Earl of Avon)

à votre santé (Fr.) to your health

a while, awhile To write ‘for awhile’ is wrong because the idea of ‘for’ is implicit in ‘awhile’. Write either ‘I will stay here for a while’ (two words) or ‘I will stay here awhile’ (one word).

awoke, awaked, awakened Two common problems are worth noting:

1. Awoken, though much used, is generally considered not standard. Thus this sentence from an Agatha Christie novel (cited by Partridge) is wrong: ‘I was awoken by that rather flashy young woman.’ Make it awakened.

2. As a past participle, awaked is preferable to awoke. Thus, ‘He had awaked at midnight’ and not ‘He had awoke at midnight.’ But if ever in doubt about the past tense, you will never be wrong if you use awakened.

axel, axle An axel is a jump in ice skating; an axle is a rod connecting two wheels.

Axelrod, George (1922–2003) American screenwriter and film director

ayatollah Shiite Muslim religious leader

Ayckbourn, Sir Alan (1939– ) prolific British playwright

Ayer, Sir Alfred Jules (1910–89) English philosopher

Ayers Rock (no apostrophe) for the Australian eminence. However, the formal and now usual name is Uluru.

Aykroyd, Dan (1952– ) Canadian-born actor and screen-writer

Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, but the Marquess of Ailesbury

Ayres, Gillian (1930– ) British artist

AZ postal abbr. of Arizona; the traditional abbreviation is Ariz

Azerbaijan former republic of the Soviet Union; capital Baku