Today's Paper Search Latest New app In the news Traffic #Gazette200 Listen Digital replica FAQ Weather Newsletters Obits Puzzles + Games Archive
story.lead_photo.caption Arthur Rackham’s illustration Advice From a Caterpillar depicts Alice, in Wonderland, trying to get information from the laconic — so concise that one seems rude — insect.

I have a list of words I think are stubborn. No matter how many times I read the word, I have to look up its definition.

Here are some examples:

abattoir. This sounds like such a sweet, genteel word. It means "slaughterhouse."

abrogate. To treat as nonexistent. Deep down, I would like to abrogate this word.

laconic. Using a minimum of words; being so concise that one seems rude.

lachrymose. Given to tears or weeping. "Lacrima" is Latin for "tear," the salty kind.

sanguine. Some definitions include bloodthirsty, from the Latin root for blood, sanguis. It's more often used to mean confident or optimistic.

insipid. Tasteless, dull, flat. Like unflavored gelatin, maybe?

perfidy. The act of being disloyal.

jejune. In full disclosure, I know what this words means. I learned it from the Woody Allen movie Love and Death. It means silly and immature. This is probably why I like it and had to include it here.


Endings can be hard, in general. Word endings can be baffling.

Well, some are easy.

teacher. One who instructs.

farmer. One who works the land.

employer. One who provides jobs.

Those are called "agent nouns," which are words that describe people performing roles.

Then we have the difficult endings.

professor. A teacher.

instructor. A teacher.

Some grammarians will tell you that words that end in "or" have Latin roots. But that's not always true. Others will say that the "or" ending is used when the agent is a person in authority. This works for "instructor" and "governor," but not for "teacher" and "employer."

Then we have the finicky "ar" ending.

burglar. One who breaks in to commit a crime. "Burgle" is in fact a verb, but it came into being after "burglar" did.

beggar. One who pleads for something.

bursar. One in charge of funds.

So, sadly, these word endings follow no consistent rule. So how do you make sure you've gotten the spelling right? Either you practice and learn, or you check the dictionary when you're not certain.


I can never say enough about apostrophes.

A reader asked me to explain phrases such as "boys basketball team," "homeowners insurance" and "teachers college."

In these examples, the plural words are descriptive. The basketball team is for boys. The insurance is for homeowners. The college is for teachers. This is why no apostrophe is needed. The team doesn't belong to the boys.

Also, you'd say, "writers strike" because it's a strike by writers. And it's an "actors showcase" because it's a showcase by actors. "Farmers market" is a market created by farmers.

Sometimes, you'll add an apostrophe if the descriptive word is already plural but doesn't end in "s."

Children's hospital

Men's room

That's just one more example of rules that have exceptions.

Sources:,,,, Buck Ryan

Reach Bernadette at

ActiveStyle on 03/20/2017

Print Headline: Choosing right word ofttimes problematic


Sponsor Content

You must be signed in to post comments