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.”

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.

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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2012 Words of the Year

It’s New Year’s Eve, a time for making reflections, resolutions, hot midnight smooches—and a pretty vicious New Year’s Day hangover. But for word nerds, it’s also a time to discuss the words of the year.

2011’s selections reflected upheaval. There was occupy, pragmatic, and’s odd choice of tergiversate. 2012’s top words are more diverse. Let’s give them a look.

This is Global Language Monitor’s selection for 2012. Paul JJ Payack, president of Global Language Monitor, noted, “Apocalypse  (Armageddon, and similar terms) reflects a growing fascination with various ‘end-of-the-world’ scenarios, or at least the end of life as we know it.  This year the Mayan Apocalypse was well noted, but some eight of the top words and phrases were directly related to a sense of impending doom.”

The organization’s other top words were: deficit, Olympiad, meme, and Frankenstorm.

bluster selected bluster this year. Why bluster? As they explain on their Hot Word blog: “In Old English bluster meant ‘to wander or stray,’ and today it has a few, closely related meanings. It means both ‘to roar and be tumultuous, as wind’ and ‘noisy, empty threats or protests; inflated talk.’ 2012 was full of bluster from the skies and from the mouths of pundits. As the U.S. Congress faces the looming fiscal cliff, we can only anticipate more bluster from politicians. Hopefully, the bluster will only come from them, not from more nor’easters and early winter storms.”

capitalism & socialism
These two words share the top spot for Merriam-Webster’s words of the year, thanks to the presidential election and debates. Confusion arose as to how the terms are defined.

capitalism: an economic system characterized by private or corporate ownership of capital goods, by investments that are determined by private decision, and by prices, production, and the distribution of goods that are determined mainly by competition in a free market

socialism: any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods

Also on Merriam-Webster’s list were: meme, schadenfreude, and malarkey.

Oxford American Dictionaries chose this as its word of the year. GIF is a computer file format that creates looped animations, such as this: Captain Picard GIF

GIF turned 25 this year, but it has never been more popular. As Katherine Martin, head of the U.S. Dictionaries Program for Oxford University Press, explained, “GIF celebrated a lexical milestone in 2012, gaining traction as a verb, not just a noun. The GIF has evolved from a medium for pop-cultural memes into a tool with serious applications including research and journalism, and its lexical identity is transforming to keep pace.”

Fun fact: Most people pronounce GIF with a hard G, as in good. However, some in the computer world insist this is a mispronunciation, claiming it should be pronounced with a J sound, as in jam. Of course, there’s a website about the debate.

2012 year in slang
Gangnam Style
Heard of this thing called Gangnam Style? Okay, duh, you have. “Gangnam Style” is the mega hit by South Korean rapper Psy. It is the first video in history to reach one billion online views.

In case you’ve been living under a rock, here’s the famous video:

YOLO is short for You Only Live Once. It’s a popular hashtag on twitter and was memorialized in rapper Drake’s song “The Motto.”

Example: Thinking about drinking a pitcher of that mystery punch—well, YOLO.

Swag is short for swagger and means being or having something cool. It gained popularity from Justin Beiber’s song “Boyfriend.”

Example: I got so much free stuff because I’m super famous. Swag!

Cray is short for crazy. It was popularized in Jay-Z’s song “Niggas in Paris.”

Example: You’re going out with that guy again? Girl, that’s cray.

What are your favorite and least favorite words of the year? Share with us in the comments section.

What decimate really means

If you are reading this from your underground doomsday bunker, I thank you for taking the time from your end-of-the-world preparations to read my humble blog. Yes, today is the day some people decided the ancient Mayans predicted would be the end of the world. So, in the spirit of all things apocalyptic, I thought we should talk about epic disasters—more specifically, the word decimate.

What do you think when you hear the word decimate? Bridge-swallowing earthquakes? Nuclear wastelands? Robot overlords?

Decimate has come to mean near-total destruction, but that’s not the technical definition of the word. Decimate comes from the Latin word decem, which means ten. Thus, decimate means to reduce something by a tenth. Merriam-Webster lists the first definition of decimate as: “to select by lot and kill every tenth man of.”

Destroying a tenth of something is still some serious carnage, but I doubt it matches the type of destruction most people now identify with the word. However, that’s okay. The meaning has changed over time, where it now can mean anything from a storm knocking down every tenth tree to robot overlords exterminating all of humankind.

And just in case this is my last post, I’ll leave you with this—an introduction to your new leaders. Good luck in the apocalypse, suckers.

Angle vs. angel

woman standing in front of a street art wall

Photo by Lisa Fotios on

angle: the figure formed by two lines extending from the same point; the precise viewpoint from which something is observed or considered <a camera angle>

angel: a spiritual being superior to humans in power and intelligence

These two words are easy to misspell because they look the same except for the arrangement of the last two letters. Angle, the kind from geometry class, is spelled with an le at the end. Angel, the kind from Sunday school class, is spelled with an el at the end.

I came up with a mnemonic device to help you remember which is which. Think: wrangle that angle. Wrangle is also spelled with an le at the end, so thinking this should remind you that angle is also spelled with an le at the end. I’m imagining a cowboy lassoing an acute angle out on the range.

Fill in the blanks with either angle or angel. The answers are at the bottom.

1. Fritz failed his math test because he couldn’t remember the difference between an acute and an obtuse _______.
2. People though Miriam was crazy because she said she saw a glowing _______ above her bed.
3. The _______ was a mess. His white robe looked nice, but he needed some gel in his hair.
4. From his _______, the zombie didn’t seem so scary.
5. The salesperson was smart. He knew the right _______ to take to get the housewife to buy the deluxe Tupperware.

1. angle 2. angel 3. angel 4. angle 5. angle

Bricks, eggs, and nog

My favorite kind of nog

My favorite kind of nog

Regardless whether you find it palatable, eggnog is perhaps the beverage most identified with the Christmas holiday. Merriam-Webster defines it as: “a drink consisting of eggs beaten with sugar, milk or cream, and often alcoholic liquor.” It notes the first usage as the year 1775.

But, eggnog—where did we get that name?

The egg part is pretty self-explanatory. But, the nog part is a bit more mysterious. A search of nog on Merriam-Webster’s main site brings the definition: “a strong ale formerly brewed in Norfolk, England.” It lists the first known usage of this word as the year 1693. The origin it lists as “unknown.”

However, this is not the only definition for nog. Webster’s unabridged online dictionary lists other definitions:

nog (noun): a wooden peg, pin, or block of the size of a brick; especially: a small block built into a wall as a hold for nails

nog (verb): to fill in (as between scantling) with brickwood

brick nog (noun): brickwork filled in between the timbers of a wood-framed wall or partition

And then there is always noggin, a slang term for the head. Webster’s also lists nog as being a shortening of noggin. So, perhaps, in the late 1600s, a bunch of construction workers in Norfolk went to the local pub after working with nog or doing nogging, drank too much ale, and in the morning their heads hurt so badly that they couldn’t even say whole words—they just held their noggins in their hands and said nog.

Then again, perhaps not. But I’d like to think that’s what happened.