Rack vs. Wrack

a very old wrecked ship sitting on sand

The shipwreck wracked the vessel.

What’s the difference between rack and wrack? Let’s take a look at their definitions, how to use them in popular phrases, and a mnemonic device to help you remember which is which.

Rack as a verb means “to torture or cause great suffering.”
Example: Her anxiety racked her mind.

Have you ever heard of the medieval torture device called the rack? It was a wooden frame with a crank attached to it. When a person was placed on the rack, the torturer would crank the device, stretching the person’s limbs until they dislocated them. Sounds like fun times.

Anyway, that’s where we get this usage of rack. And when we use it, we signify torturing, especially stretching.

Wrack as a verb means “to wreck or ruin something.”
Example: They sat back as they watched pollution wrack their planet.

Wrack comes from a word meaning “to be shipwrecked.” Both of these words have pretty gloomy origins, don’t they?

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Now let’s go over a couple common phrases using one of these words.

Rack your brain
When you rack your brain, you are thinking really hard, stretching your brain’s capabilities. This idea of stretching is why we use rack instead of wrack.

Example: I really racked my brain studying for my chemistry final.

Nerve-racking
Something that is nerve-racking tortures your nerves. This idea of torturing is why we use rack instead of wrack.

Example: I found studying for my chemistry final nerve-racking.

Similar meanings
It’s true that rack and wrack have very similar uses. This is why some dictionaries, such as Merriam-Webster, are advocating for using the words interchangeably and treating them as spelling variants.

Mnemonic device
To remember the difference between rack and wrack think: wrack = wreck. They are only one letter off.

Erin Servais is the founder of Dot and Dash, LLC, an author-services company focusing on women writers and offering a range of editing, coaching, and social media packages.

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Portmanteau: Definition + Examples

Scrabble tiles with the word "portmanteaus" overtop them

Portmanteaus are words that blend two or more words together.

A portmanteau is when two or more words blend together to make a new word. Often, this new word fills a void in the lexicon. For example, people needed a name for the pollution that clings to city skies. So they came up with smog, which is a mashup of smoke and fog.

Spork is another neat one. Is there really a better term to describe that combo spoon and fork found in school cafeterias across the nation?

In both smog and spork, the two words used to form the portmanteau help describe the new word, which is a quality of portmanteaus.

Also, most of us are familiar with these terms and may recognize that they are portmanteaus, perhaps because they are newer to our vocabulary. However, there are many older words that we may not recognize are indeed portmanteaus. A few of my favorites are bash (bang + smash), flounder (flounce + blunder), and meld (melt + weld).

 

List of portmanteaus
Here’s a list of portmanteaus. Some are pretty funny (glob); some are more well known (motel); and some are so rooted in our language that many may not be aware they even are portmanteaus (pixel). Enjoy!

portmanteau combination of
advertorial advertisement + editorial
alphanumeric alphabetic + numeric
bash bang + smash
bionic biology + electronic
biopic biographical + picture
blog web + log
bodacious bold + audacious
breathalyzer breath + analyzer
carjack car + hijack
Chunnel channel + tunnel
cyborg cybernetic + organism
dumbfound dumb + confound
emoticon emotion + icon
flounder flounce + blunder
genome gene + chromosome
glitz glamour + ritz
glob gob + blob
guesstimate guess + estimate
hazmat hazard + material
intercom internal + communication
internet international + network
malware malicious + software
meld melt + weld
modem modulator + demodulator
motel motor + hotel
motorcade motor + cavalcade
newscast news + broadcast
paratrooper parachute + trooper
pixel picture + element
prissy prim + sissy
pulsar pulsating + star
quasar quasistellar + radio
simulcasting simultaneous + broadcasting
sitcom situation + comedy
skort skirt + short
smog smoke + fog
spork spoon + fork
telethon telephone + marathon
transponder transmitter + responder
wifi wireless + fidelity

Make your own portmanteaus
In my research, I discovered a super cool website, called Portmanteaur, where you can create your own portmanteaus. Simply enter a couple words into the text box and—voila—a list of portmanteaus of your words appear. (It’s magic.)

Let me know what portmanteaus you make in the comments.

This post was written by Erin Servais of Dot and Dash, an author-services company focusing on women authors.

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Bald-Faced, Bold-Faced, or Barefaced Lie?

Woman's mouth and the text: Lies! Lies! Lies!

What do you call a major lie, one told with total disregard for anyone who might be affected by it? You’ve got a few options. You could call it a barefaced lie, a bald-faced lie, or a bold-faced lie. All of these are technically correct and mean basically the same thing, but bald-faced is, according to Merriam-Webster, “the preferred term in published, edited text.”

Barefaced has been used to describe lies and liars since the 19th century. Bald-faced, meanwhile, emerged in the mid-20th century. Both terms mean an open, unconcealed lie told with no concern for the truth and with an additional implication of rudeness.

The term bold-faced has been around since the 16th century, but it started to be used in this context around the end of the 20th century. It’s possible that the emergence of bold-faced as a modifier for lies and liars corresponds to the increase in the use of bold-faced text during this period.

Barefaced, bald-faced, and bold-faced are all grammatically correct ways to describe lies. Most people don’t use barefaced anymore, and of the remaining two options, the preferred, professional term is bald-faced. Now that’s the truth!

 

This post was written by Maud Grauer. She is a content creator for Dot and Dash. You can read more of her writing on the Dot and Dash blog: www.dotanddashllc.com/blog

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Courage vs. Bravery

Today we’re discussing two words that are often connected to heroism: courage and bravery. Now the words are used interchangeably, but a look to their history reveals an important difference.

First let’s look at current definitions.

Bravery is the “quality or state of being brave,” and Merriam-Webster, in its unabridged online version, defines brave as “resolute in facing odds; able to meet danger or endure pain or hardship without giving in to fear.” The unabridged dictionary defines courage as “mental or moral strength enabling one to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty firmly and resolutely.”

It’s worth noting that here Merriam-Webster also defines brave as “having or showing courage.”

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Etymology
The current definitions are very similar. Yet, when we look at how courage and bravery came into the English language, a distinction shows.

Merriam-Webster notes that courage is linked historically to cœur, the French word for heart. Brave, on the other hand, comes from the Italian word bravo, meaning “brave, bold.” Bravo, interestingly enough, originally meant “wild, savage,” says the Online Etymology Dictionary.

Meaning
There is a quote that goes “The line between bravery and stupidity is so thin that you don’t know you’ve crossed it until you’re dead.”

That’s the main takeaway when you consider the etymology. Bravery can be the split-second decision to run into a field filled with flying arrows. Bravery can be dangerously close to stupidity, to wild and savage.

Courage, however, takes something deeper. It takes heart. Courage is donating a kidney to your sister because you love her so deeply. Courage is a doctor or a nurse choosing to work in an Ebola-stricken region because they want to relieve human suffering.

Bravery is eating an earthworm sandwich because your buddy dared you.

What do you think?
Is there a difference between courage and bravery? Or should we use them interchangeably? Let me know in the comments.

Erin Servais is the founder of Dot and Dash, LLC, an author-services company focusing on women writers and offering a range of book editing, author coaching, and social media packages.

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What does “hero” mean?

Hero definition
hero: 1) a person who is greatly admired for great or brave acts or fine qualities; 2) a person who is greatly admired
—Merriam-Webster

Hero etymology
According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, hero arrived in English in the late fourteenth century. It came from the Greek word heros, which meant demi-god. When it entered English, it meant a man of superhuman strength or physical courage.

Who is a hero? What does it take to be a hero?
Here in the United States, it feels like we are on hero overload. It seems that every soldier coming back from serving in the war on terror is deemed a hero. But what if they had a desk job and never saw combat? What if their “great or brave acts” were scrubbing down naval ships? Does that make them a hero? Should they be greatly admired?

We recently witnessed an act on the other side of the war on terror with the attack in Paris on the staff of the Charlie Hebdo magazine. In western media, the attackers were portrayed as villains, as anti-heroes. But, do the people who believe in their cause not view them oppositely, as heroes?

Is heroism subjective?
In a 2014 article for The Huffington Post, author Rob Cipriano describes the qualities of a hero as these:

A hero is someone who “we” determine to have demonstrated behaviors and  decisions that are ethically and emotionally worthy of our awe. We see in them something we think is not in us. Given similar conditions, we “think” we might not make the same moves and decisions they do, so we place them in an elevated place in society or in our minds. What is a hero? Someone who inspires us by their example. Someone who moves us emotionally to connect with them at some level in order for us develop a connection with them. We may want to idolize them or place them in high personal regard. We may   want to connect with them in a personal way by focusing on them to garner  their strength or will-power.

Then, it seems, everyone can have their own definition of hero based on the qualities they deem to be worthy of admiration.

So, what is it?
We can read all the definitions and descriptions we want, but I don’t think it gets us any closer to a universal template of hero. It seems to me that a hero is whichever person you want it to be. But, I think we should all think hard about what qualities we want to attach to our own definition.

What do you think? What qualities do you think it takes to become a hero? Who are your heroes? Leave me a comment. I’d love to know.

Erin Servais is the founder of Dot and Dash, LLC, an author-services company focusing on women writers and offering a range of book editing, author coaching, and social media packages.

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