What Does “Peccadillo” Mean?

 

forks

Using the wrong fork at dinner is some people’s peccadillo.

Are you looking for a word to describe something that annoys you, but isn’t irksome enough to write a letter to the editor about (well, unless you’re that kind of person)?

Try peccadillo.

Here’s how Merriam-Webster defines it:

peccadillo: a small mistake or fault that is not regarded as very bad or serious

A person’s peccadillo could be that their partner doesn’t fold laundry the way they like it, or their friend insists on driving exactly five miles over the speed limit. Peccadillo covers minor offenses. That means genocide, for example, falls outside most people’s peccadillo boundaries.

Etymology
Humans have long needed a term to differentiate between a minor and a major fault. Peccadillo originates in English from the end of the 1500s, when English speakers borrowed it from the Spanish. In Spanish peccadillo means also means a minor sin, whereas pecado means a greater sin.

What are your peccadilloes? Tell me in the comments below.

Imminent vs. eminent

imminent: ready to take place
eminent: standing out so as to be readily perceived or noted; conspicuous
—Merriam-Webster

Imminent usage
Imminent is an adjective that describes something (such as an event) that is going to happen soon. It can be negative or positive.

Examples:
One cannot dismiss the imminent danger of climate change.
Al has only three pieces of the jigsaw puzzle left. Completion is imminent.

Eminent usage
Eminent is an adjective that describes something (such as a person) that is famous and popular (the best in a category). It is usually positive.

Examples:
Heath is the eminent researcher in his field.
The new skyscraper has become the eminent symbol of the town.

Remember the difference
To tell imminent and eminent apart, think that imminent means immediate. (In actuality, the event imminent describes doesn’t have to happen right away, but simply soon. Still, it helps as a mnemonic.)

Quiz
Test your imminent and eminent skills with a quiz. The answers are at the end.

  1. After winning the award, Dottie was known as the _______ chef in town.
  2. Daryl’s bad test score meant failing the class was _______.
  3. The thought of the _______ glee the cookies will bring made Kevin smile.
  4. The _______ product sold the most units.

Answers: 1. eminent 2. imminent 3. imminent 4. eminent

Hair shirt

A hair shirt is as it sounds: a shirt made out of hair. Though they are rarely used today, historically people in some Christian religious orders wore them as a means of penance. The shirts were originally woven with goat hair and were worn next to the skin to keep the wearer in constant discomfort and awareness of the shirt’s presence. (The shirts evolved to contain bits of metal woven with hair. Delightful.)

Today, this item of self-torture survives in the language as a noun that means “one that irritates like a hair shirt” and as an adjective that means “austere and self-sacrificing.”

Here are some examples of hair shirt as a noun:

Uncle Harvey is such a hair shirt. I would rather drink soup from a toilet than listen to another of his “olden days” stories.

Merv thought yoga was a hair shirt until he tried it and enjoyed how limber he felt afterward.

Here are some examples of hair shirt as an adjective:

Carla felt so guilty about murdering her gardener that she chose to live a hair-shirt existence. She gave her belongings to charity and moved to the desert, where she survived by eating spiders and rats.

Getting healthy doesn’t mean living a hair-shirt lifestyle. Merv found vegetables to be delicious, and he got lots of dates from yoga class.

Courage vs. bravery

Last time we talked about the word hero—what it means and what it takes to be one. In this post, we’re discussing two words that are often connected to heroism: courage and bravery.

Today 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.”

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.

Awe vs. aw

My kitty, Buff Buff, pretending to read the AP Stylebook makes me say, "Aw."

My kitty, Buff Buff, pretending to read the AP Stylebook makes me say, “Aw.”

awe: an emotion variously combining dread, veneration, and wonder that is inspired by authority or by the sacred or sublime
aw: used to express mild disappointment, gentle entreaty, or real or mock sympathy or sentiment
—Merriam-Webster

I’m not sure how many people confuse these two words, but I know there are a few of you out there, so I hope this post helps. Mostly, I see this mistake in text messages I get from a certain lovely man. When I read them, I like to think he had a overwhelming revelation about how fantastic and pretty and kind and funny and talented I am, which he could only sum up in a one-word text reading awe. But because these messages usually come after I send him adorable photos of my cats, I’m assuming he really meant to type aw.

Aw not aww
Note that aw is not spelled with two Ws at the end, which is a common misspelling. When you’re saying it, you can drag out the word as long as you want for effect, but in writing, stick to one W.

Examples
When Larry saw the giant, he was struck with a feeling of awe. The giant was so huge and scary.

Then when the giant got on one knee and handed him a bouquet of flowers, Larry could only say, “Aw,” because he was so stunned by the kind gesture.

Quiz
Fill in either awe or aw in the blanks below. The answers are at the bottom.

1. Pedro was such a cute dog that everyone who met him cooed, “_______.”
2. When his doggie parents first saw Pedro, they felt _______ at how one dog seemed to have so many cuteness genes.
3. After watching Carl Sagan’s Cosmos, Lola was in _______ at how beautifully complex our galaxy is.
4. When Lola learned the sun will someday become extinguished, she thought, “_______, I want the sun to live forever!”

Answers:
1. Aw 2. awe 3. awe 4. Aw