Category Archives: Writing

Troublesome words – refusenik

Troublesome words – refusenik

I try not to be an over-prescriptive fuss-pot when it comes to language,* believing the important thing is clarity and accepting things change with them, while obviously, as I do here, trying to share examples where, say, there are two different words that mean subtly different things and thus should be retained and used. I know people get very cross about the use of words like “decimate”, and when I get a little bit cross about things, as with swathe or swath a while ago, I try to remember to make a point of looking them up and finding out whether our big dictionary sources back me up, or not!

Here is a (perhaps more obscure) case in point. I keep hearing the word refusenik being used to describe someone who is actively refusing to do something, usually to prove a point or in some form of protest. School uniform refuseniks and the like. I knew the term in its original meaning, which is the highly specific one describing Jewish people in the former Soviet Union who were refused to be allowed to emigrate to Israel. I kind of expanded this in my mind to incorporate all people whose exit from a place is refused. The emphasis here is on the fact that they are being refused exit – someone else is doing the refusing and they are the passive objects of the refusal (grammatically speaking).

But I checked my sources, and there we are: a refusenik is perfectly able to simultaneously be someone who refuses to do something out of principle and someone who is refused exit.

** Did you notice the at least three rules I have broken in this post to prove my point about not being fussy?



Posted by on August 31, 2017 in Be careful, Language use, Writing


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Tricky words: What does falsify mean?

I occasionally write about tricky words rather than troublesome pairs on this blog, and here’s one that always makes me feel a little uneasy. When that happens, I look it up (a large part of being a decent editor / proofreader is knowing when to look stuff up), and I find I have had to look this one up a few times.

So, falsify.

The most common meaning for “to falsify”, in my opinion, is the one around making something become false. You might change something to mislead “We falsified the results to make it look like smoking is good for you”. You are effectively changing something, a document or some results, in order to deceive people. Falsification is the noun for the action of falsifying, and a falsifier does it.

But the other meaning is to prove to be false, or to disprove. In this case, it’s the opposite of verify, and is used in, for example, social sciences and economics texts (which is where I tend to find it). It looks odd to me when I read, “We falsified the results”, but here the writer is using it in this second meaning: “We proved the results to be false”.

To be honest, I’d rather move away from possible misinterpretation and use “we proved the results to be false” or “we verified that the hypothesis could not be proved” rather than “we falsified the results” or “we falsified the hypothesis”. However, my editing policy is to tread lightly, and it is an acceptable term, found in all the major dictionaries, so it’s not something I would change lightly (although I might make a note for the author if the text was going into general rather than academic circulation).

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Posted by on July 27, 2017 in Be careful, Writing


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How to start a new line, paragraph or page or indent a paragraph in Word 2007, 2010, 2013 or 2016

How to start a new line, paragraph or page or indent a paragraph in Word 2007, 2010, 2013 or 2016

This is a quick reference round-up how to and how not to covering how to stat a new line, how to start a new paragraph, how to start a new page and how to indent a paragraph in Word for Windows.

I have covered all of these in detail in various longer articles which I’ll link to as we go along.

Why all the fuss? Why can’t I do it my way?

If you are formatting a document to be used by someone else, edited and changed or, especially, printed, it’s vital that you use the standard ways to lay out your document to prevent it getting into a mess or someone else having to reformat it (which could be expensive if you’re paying them). In addition, certain methods, especially using Enter to start a new line, can make your document messy as soon as you enter extra text before that line break (see the relevant article for details and examples).

How to start a new line in Word

Don’t use the space bar to move the cursor along until it finally gets to the next line

Do use a soft line return or a hard paragraph return:

  • Pressing the shift key and enter key at the same time at the end of your line will move the cursor to the next line without any paragraph breaks, spaces between the lines, etc. (this is very useful if you’re creating two-line captions)
  • Pressing the enter key at the end of your line will move the cursor to the start of the new line (this will give you a space between the two lines if you have your paragraphs set up like that

How to start a new paragraph in Word

Don’t use the space bar to move the cursor to a new line, then create a new line of spaces

Do use a hard paragraph return: hit the Enter key on your keyboard

How to put a space between paragraphs in Word

Don’t use the Enter key to add a line of white space

Do use the Line Space icon in your Home tab or the Paragraph menu to add a space after each paragraph

How to indent a paragraph in Word

Really don’t use the space key to line up the paragraphs

Don’t use the Tab key to indent the paragraph

Do either highlight the whole text and set the rulers at the top of the page OR set the Normal style to have an indent at the start of a paragraph

How to start a new page in Word

Don’t use the Enter key to move the cursor down to the next page

Do use the Enter and Control keys at the same time to force a page break

This article has summarised how to start a new line, paragraph and page and indent a paragraph correctly in Word.

Related articles in this blog

Line space icon

Paragraph menu

Indenting paragraphs

Page breaks



Posted by on April 19, 2017 in Errors, Word, Writing


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Possum or opossum?

DictionariesBecause possums are known for playing dead, I thought this would be a good post for April Fool’s Day. But I’m posting this after midday in the UK, so it’s only still appropriate in later timezones than ours. Ah, well.

So, what’s the difference between opossums and possums? Well … there is and there isn’t a difference.

An opossum is an North American marsupial which is from the family Didelphidae and is handily also sometimes known as a possum. The word opossum was borrowed from the Powhatan language in the 1600s.

When Americans or those who knew the opossum first went to Australia, they found there was a similar-looking BUT NOT THE SAME animal from the Phalangeriformes family, and promptly christened it the possum. Except that it’s sometimes called an opossum.

Here’s the North American type, the opossum (or possum) (both pictures used from Wikipedia  on creatives commons licences):

North American opossum

and here’s the Australasian variant, the possum (or opossum):

Australasian possum

You’re welcome!

You can find more troublesome pairs here and the index to them all so far is here.


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Undulate or ungulate?

My husband, Mr Libro, likes these words, he suggested last week’s too. I have to say I agree with him, too, even if any confusion between them in likely to be more of a typo than an error in meaning.

To undulate means to move smoothly in a wave-like manner.

An ungulate is a hoofed mammal, such as a cow. I thought it only meant hoofed animals that chew the cud, so you really do learn a new thing every day!

You can find more troublesome pairs here, and here’s the index to them all!

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Posted by on March 15, 2017 in Errors, Language use, Troublesome pairs, Writing


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Undulant or unguent?

This is a Troublesome Pair suggested by Mr Libro, my dear husband. I’m not sure anyone will get these mixed up, but they are fun words, aren’t they? A bit of a tongue-twister, too …

Undulant is a second adjective that originates from undulate (the more common adjective is undulating, but why have one adjective when you can have two lovely unusual ones?). So it means something that is undulating, or moving with a smooth, wave-like action.

An unguent, which is a noun, is a soft and viscous or greasy substance which is used either for lubrication or as an ointment.

So now you know.

You can find more troublesome pairs here, and here’s the index to them all!


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Mucus or mucous?

I haven’t posted a Troublesome Pair for ages but I’ve had this one up my sleeve (erm, no, I haven’t, that would be disgusting!) for ages and hadn’t got round to posting it. With a Birmingham Cough going the rounds still, this seemed a seasonal post; my apologies to the more sensitive reader. It is a valid and troublesome pair, though!

Mucus is the noun, i.e. the thing itself: slimy stuff that gets secreted by animals and even plants (it’s more commonly known as mucilage in plants, though mucilage is also, in general a viscous bodily fluid or secretion).

Mucous is the adjective – so mucous membranes secrete mucus, for example.

Bonus word: mucilaginous is the adjective that goes with mucilage. I bet you’re glad you asked, aren’t you!

You can find more troublesome pairs here, and here’s the index to them all!


Posted by on February 22, 2017 in Errors, Language use, Troublesome pairs, Writing


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