‘Aisle’ and ‘isle’

It is fairly common to see isle used where aisle would be appropriate, but the different meanings are straightforward to grasp.


  • a passage between rows of seats or seating areas
  • a passage between rows of cabinets and shelves (containing goods)
  • a lower part in a church parallel to but divided from (by pillars) the nave or chancelIsland


  • an island

The similarity between isle and island is a useful indicator of which word to use. If the thing you are writing about is not an island, you know that you need to use aisle.


‘Plain’ and ‘plane’

This is fairly basic but it is easy to type or write the wrong word when you are in a hurry. I tend to find that plane is used in place of plain. I haven’t yet seen an aircraft referred to as a ‘plain’.


  • without decoration or adornment
  • without pattern or with one colour or with simple weave (when a fabric)
  • having no particular beauty
  • flat or smooth
  • easily understood; clear or simple; unequivocal
  • a lowly person or lowly people (usually in social rank or education)
  • a simple stitch in knitting
  • to mourn, lament or complain


  • Planean aeroplane
  • to glide, skim or soar without moving wings
  • a level surface; level or flat
  • a flat surface on which a straight line joining any two points on it lies entirely on that surface
  • a level of existence, thought or attainment
  • a tool with a block and projecting steel blade for smoothing timber or wooden surfaces; to smooth timber or remove material using a plane
  • a type of tall spreading tree

‘Cue’ and ‘queue’

The first homophones of the year are cue and queue. The order of the vowels in queue is also a source of confusion for some writers.


  • a signal for action
  • a signal for an actor to enter or begin
  • a hint or signal about how to behave
  • a reminder
  • a long, straight, tapering wooden rod used to strike the ball in games such as billiards and snooker; to hit a ball with a cue
  • to act as a prompt or reminder
  • to set audio or visual equipment in readiness to play
  • on cue – at the right moment


  • Queuea line or sequence of people or vehicles awaiting their turn; to form or remain in a line while waiting
  • (in computing) a list of data items, commands, etc.,  stored so they are retrievable in a particular order; to arrange such items in a queue
  • a plait of hair or braid worn at the back
  • to be keen to do or have something (e.g. they were queuing up to hire him)

Cue jokes about British people in a queue.

En rules

KeyboardYou are probably familiar with two types of dashes: the en rule and the em rule. Neither is to be used as if it is a hyphen.

The en rule (–) is longer than a hyphen (-) and half the length of an em rule (—).

You will often see it used with a space either side as a parenthetical dash; this is usually the preferred style for British publishers (the alternative is a closed-up em rule).

When considering the other uses, it might be helpful to think of the en rule as meaning (roughly) and or to.

The en rule should be used closed up (with no spaces either side) in elements (usually figures) that form a range:

pp. 18–25        1865–72        Monday–Friday

The en rule should also be used at the end of unfinished number ranges.

It is important to remember to always write from xxxx to xxxx or xxxx–xxxx. Do not use a combination of the two. The same applies when writing between xxxx and xxxx.

An en rule can be used closed up to express connection or relation between words, to express an alternative (in a similar way to a solidus) or to indicate joint creators (a hyphen between the names would suggest it was only one person).

En rules can also be used to indicate individual missing letters:

'The utter b – – – – – – !' she shouted.

It isn’t common to see this any more; people tend to be able to cope with seeing rude words spelt out.


https://pixabay.com/en/snowy-still-life-winter-christmas-1057327/If you sing or listen to carols, this word is probably very familiar. It is to me – some of my best childhood memories are of singing carols with a choir at Christmas.

Noel is often used as a refrain in carols and on Christmas cards. It means ‘Christmas’. A noel is a Christmas carol.

Its origin is early 19th century, from the French Noël. Noël is based on the Latin word natalis meaning ‘birthday’.

Joyeux Noel is sometimes used by English speakers to wish others a happy or merry Christmas. If you are writing to a French speaker, remember to use Noël.

You may have seen the spelling Nowell or Nowel. Nowell is the Middle English spelling of Noel. It’s now regarded as archaic and is rarely used. However, it is common for the carol ‘The First Nowell’ to be spelt using the original form (you can read more on why here).

If you use Spotify, here’s the carol with its famous refrain:

This is my last post for a week or so. I’ll still be contactable should you have any proofreading-related emergencies.

I wish you a very merry Christmas.

‘Slay’ and ‘sleigh’

SantaIt is getting closer to the time when Father Christmas delivers presents! As he dashes around the world every Christmas Eve, his method of transport is a sleigh.

Santa’s Slay is a film I don’t think I ever need to see.


  • to kill something in a violent way
  • to delight, impress or amuse someone very much
  • a tool used in weaving


  • a sledge drawn by animals, usually horses (or reindeer!)
  • (sleighing) ride on a sleigh

Here’s ‘Jingle Bells’, with the well-known sleigh-related lyrics:

Feeling Christmassy yet?



https://pixabay.com/en/windows-shutters-architecture-923845/Defenestration is the action of throwing someone (or something) out of a window. It can also be used to describe the process or action of removing someone from a position of authority or power.

You can defenestrate someone or be defenestrated.

Defenestration is early 17th century in origin, stemming from de- meaning ‘down from’ and the Latin fenestra meaning ‘window’.

The word is thought to have been coined around the time of the Defenestration of Prague in 1618. The incident at Prague Castle saw two Catholic governors and their scribe thrown from windows by Protestant citizens. The defenestration helped to start the Thirty Years War.


https://pixabay.com/en/drummers-drums-soldiers-historic-642540/You might be familiar with a nursery rhyme about three men in a tub. Or the BBC’s version about socks (if my socks had that many holes, I would just get rid of them).

Rub-a-dub was originally a word for the sound made by beating a drum or for a drumming sound.

It is often used to describe a rhythmic sound or motion, such as rubbing or scrubbing to make something clean.

Rub-a-dub is also rhyming slang for pub.

‘Palate’, ‘palette’ and ‘pallet’

I must admit I have to think very carefully about these three.


  • the roof of the mouth
  • the sense of taste or ability to distinguish between and appreciate flavours
  • the flavour of wine and beer


  • a flat, thin board used by artists to mix paints
  • the range of colours characteristic of a particular artist or school of painting, also the range of colours used in a particular painting
  • the range of colours, patterns or shapes that can be displayed on the visual display unit of a computer
  • the range of tonal colour in a piece of music


  • https://pixabay.com/en/pallets-wood-pile-wooden-745422/a straw-filled mattress or bed; a crude, temporary or makeshift bed
  • a tool (often wooden) with a flat blade used for shaping clay or plaster
  • a portable platform for stacking, storing and moving goods
  • a projection on a machine part that changes the motion of a wheel

Pallet also has specialist uses in relation to timepieces and heraldry.



Sorry Britishers, it has nothing to do with cats. Here’s a picture of one anyway.

This week’s interesting word is (I believe) common in American English but almost unknown in British English.

It is a variation of cater-cornered. There are other variations including catacornered, caddy-cornered and kitty-cornered.

Cater-cornered means ‘diagonal’ or ‘diagonally’. It is used to describe something as situated diagonally opposite from something else.

Cater-corned is mid 19th century in origin. It is usually considered to have developed from a dialect use of cater meaning ‘diagonally’. This stemmed from cater meaning the four-spot on dice, which comes from the French quatre meaning ‘four’. Quatre is from the Latin quattuor, meaning ‘four’.