Readability tips, literacy news, and English writing advice

April Fools' Day Cryptic

Spring pudding as butt of joke? (5,4)


Four Sets of Words That Are Commonly Mixed Up

There is a myriad of words in the English language that are misused every day. Homophones, which are words that sound alike but have different spellings with different meanings, such as "horse" and "hoarse", are easy to mix up. But even though they sound the same, and even though they look similar, they are not interchangeable.

Your pronunciation may help to hide it if you don't know the difference between certain words, but when it comes down to writing them, it's crucial to get them right.

Accept vs. Except

"Accept" is the verb version of this homophone, whereas "except" is usually used as a preposition.

To accept is to approve or receive something, such as to accept a teenager's application for a position at the local grocery store or to accept the money that your grandmother has handed you for mowing her lawn.

"Except" is usually used to exclude something. For example, "She took all of the hand-me-downs from her older sister except the sneakers."

If you excepted the teen's application, you would be bypassing it, and if you accepted the sneakers you'd have a run-on, slightly redundant sentence.

A helpful hint for remembering this difference is that accepting is an action.

Principle vs. Principal

A principle is a fundamental base for something, such as the principles of a religion, or a belief. For example, "Her principles prevented her from cheating on the test."

A principal is a person with high authority, such as the principal of a high school. It can also be used to describe an original or main item of importance, such as a principal amount of a donation, or a state's principal cities.

Your principal could prevent you from cheating on the test, but it's less likely. By the same token, your principles are likely not running your school.

You can remember some of these differences by thinking that a principal should be a pal to their school.

Defiantly vs. Definitely

This is perhaps the most frustrating mix up, since these words don't look or sound all that alike, yet seeing defiance in place of definite-ness is not uncommon.

To do something defiantly is to do it with an air of spite or rebelliousness. Used correctly, you might see a sentence saying, "He picked up his brother's mess defiantly, stomping his feet the entire time."

The word "definitely" means to do something clearly, or to establish no doubt. Used correctly, you might see a sentence that says, "I will definitely meet you at the restaurant after work today."

When these words are switched, you get, "I will defiantly meet you at the restaurant after work today." While the image it paints is comical, as though going out for dinner is an act of rebellion, it doesn't make much sense. You could defiantly meet your friend for dinner, but it's unlikely that that would be the intended meaning.

Wonder vs. Wander

This switch up is also frustrating, because while these two words do admittedly look similar, they are not pronounced the same as each other.

To wonder is to be curious about or amazed by something. For example, "She wondered how life could ever get better," or, "He watched the fireflies flickering in the yard with wonder."

To wander is to explore, or walk at your leisure. For example, "She wandered down the beach, basking in the sunset," or, "He wandered along the edge of the forest, searching for an opening."

You definitely don't wander how life could get better or wonder through the woods, but you don't have to wonder any longer if you're using the right version of these words!

International Women's Day Cryptic

Way female poet has expunged line (4)

Answer: PATH

Valentine's Day Cryptic

Protective clothing not right for love (5)

Answer: AMOUR

Four Surprising English Food Word Origins

We all know that certain food words, like the foods they symbolize, come from different cultures. The word "sushi," like the raw-fish-over-rice-balls it describes is definitely Japanese, just as "hamburger" is clearly German. But over time some of the origins of words and the foods they describe have been so hidden in the annals of history, that the stories behind certain food words we take for granted end up surprising us, such as:


Dan Jurafsky, linguist and author of The Language of Food, relates in the introduction of his book an anecdote in which a friend's astute child pointed out that a ketchup bottle was labeled "tomato ketchup," not just plain "ketchup." The label seemed redundant to her, as everyone knows that ketchup is always made out of tomatoes...or is it?

Turns out, it isn't. In fact, ketchup originated in China, and used to be made of fermented fish sauce, not tomatoes. The word "ketchup" originally meant "fish sauce' in the dialect of the Fujian people in Southern China. From Asia, ketchup eventually made its way to Europe and then to the Americas, where it lost the fish and took on the form that we all know and love today.


Why is it called a toast when people drink for the newly-married couple at a wedding or an honored guest at a feast? Apparently, according to Jurafsky's research, people used to drink alcoholic beverages like wine and ale with a piece of toast in it. Before this tradition of combining wine and toast died out in the 17th century, English diners began to develop a custom of having everyone at the table drink to someone's health. Hence, the linkage between the original toast (heated bread) and the wedding or other celebratory "toast."


Is it just coincidence that the traditional Thanksgiving bird shares the same name as a country in the Middle East? Apparently no, says Jurafsky. Turkeys originally came from Mexico and in the Aztec language, were known as "totolin" or the more tongue-twister-ish "huexolotl." The turkey emigrated to Europe after Columbus arrived in the Americas, where it grew increasingly popular through the 1500s.

By the mid-1500s, France and England were importing guinea fowls, which look similar to small female turkeys. These guinea fowls were originally called "turkey cock" after the Turkish sultans who first sold the fowl to the Europeans in the 1400s.

Soon, Portugal began to re-import the guinea fowl as they were shipping turkeys from the Americas. But thanks to Portugal's paranoia about its maritime explorations, people could not tell which bird came from where, and began to mix the two up. Eventually, the name "turkey" stuck with the bird from the Americas, and that is why we call the usual Thanksgiving centerpiece a "turkey" today.


The word alcohol comes from the Arabic word "al-kuhl" which refers to black powdered eye makeup which people used since the time of the ancient Egyptians. The makeup was made of ground minerals. Over time, the word "alcohol" came to mean any fine powder or a distilled essence or spirit. Then in the 1700s, alcohol developed the meaning by which it is known today--an intoxicating liquid found in many different drinks.

New Year's Day Cryptic

Looked into beginning to date after kiss on new year (1-5)

Answer: XRAYED

Boxing Day Cryptic

A feature of Boxing Day, going Greek dancing (4,6)


Christmas Day Cryptic

Christmas food for a king in church (4)

Answer: CAKE

Thanksgiving (USA) Cryptic

Persistently question family that supplies fruit (7)


International Men's Day Cryptic

That man Patrick in charge of livery (7)


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