Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Corrected: Lightning and lightning bugs

In discussions with a charming 11-year old over the holiday, I mentioned the truth of Mark Twain's observation that "the difference between the right word and almost the right word in the difference between lightening and a lightening (oops, lightning) bug."

I also told her I liked to collect words that mean precisely what they intend and that express something no other single word can convey. Interstice is a favorite, and liminal is another. The list also includes interregnum, and a friend suggests matriculate (which, like penultimate, also has the distinction of being misused more often than it is used correctly).

Any other nominations or arguments?


  1. I know there's something perverse about replacing lightning with lightening in a post about selecting the right word, but dear God it isn't 'irony' which shares the distinction of more misuse than use. Along with 'alumni', which is unambiguously plural.

    As far as semantic precision, I've always liked 'lambent' and 'plutocratic'.

  2. > "...the right word and almost the right word"



  3. (The above comment is evidence that some people would do well to read the existing comments before posting their own.)

  4. The inclusion of sed syntax more than makes up for comment redundancy :)

  5. I occasionally wish my mother named me "Eponymous."