Thursday, 26 February 2009
Discreet: an adjective meaning something or someone that avoids social embarrassment or distress by secretiveness.
Discrete: this adjective means distinct in form or concept. If the sentence involves data, this is probably the word.
Discrete data has values that are not infinitesimally close. So the number of Asbos given out in a patch in a year might be 2008: 4; 2009: 6; 2010; 3. These data are discrete, because you can't have 3.43245 Asbos. But if you have a list of heights of wrong-doers, that data set would read: 187.445cm; 134.567cm; 140.356cm; 189.001cm; 181.222cm. This is continuous data (and police are hunting high and low).
In the wild
He vomited discreetly into the wastepaper basket; wiped his mouth on a silk handkerchief, which he threw likewise into the same receptacle; and continued the interview.
Each volunteer group has a discrete budget for their own projects.
I am going to remember this because the avoiding social humiliation variety of discreet has double letters in it, just like embarrassment.
Tuesday, 24 February 2009
Thursday, 19 February 2009
Rein is what you drive a horse with. If your sentence is about a. horses; or b. giving or taking away freedom, use this word. It can be a verb or a noun.
Reign is what kings and queens do. If your sentence is about someone who is in charge, use this word. It can be a verb or a noun.
That particular editor's reign of terror was marked by a full fortnight of rain and only ended when head office decided to rein him in.
Tuesday, 17 February 2009
Thursday, 12 February 2009
Stationary -- still, in one place -- has an 'a' for 'adjective' in it.
Stationery -- pens and paper -- doesn't have an 'a' for 'adjective in it.
In the wild:
'He leapt from the stationary car and disappeared into the night.'
'Meet me in the stationery cupboard. I have some pens for you.'
Tuesday, 10 February 2009
Thursday, 5 February 2009
Complement (n.) -- the number needed to complete a group: 'We have a full complement at the moment. Couldn't jam another sailor in if you tried.'
Compliment (v.) -- say something nice about someone. And this is the word to use if you're thinking of 'compliment slips'. 'May I compliment you on your choice of purple hat and ball gown?'
Complimentary (adj.) -- free of charge. 'Here's your complimentary moist towelette.'
There's a 'lime' in the middle of the 'saying something nice' and 'free gift' compliment, so perhaps you can fix in your head the idea of praising a small green citrus fruit which someone has given you for free.