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Deduce or Induce? It’s Elementary, Watson …

Whether or not Sherlock Holmes ever said “Elementary, Watson” is debatable. What’s not in question is Holmes’s keen powers of observation that made him a master of deductive reasoning. He was able to deduce, or draw, specific conclusions from general principles. “I deduce that it was the butler with the lamp stand.” (oh, waitthat’s Clue).

The word deduce has a different meaning than induce. Whereas deduce relies on specific conclusions, induce means to derive a general principle from specific observations. Inducing implies more of a supposition.

For example: I might deduce that since all mammals have fur, that creature running across my floor at night is a mammal. That might make me induce that all mammals are very furry. That latter supposition is general rather than specific. Continue Reading…

Here Lies—An Epithet or an Epitaph? 

Here are a couple of closely related words that you don’t want to confuse: epitaph and epithet—especially when it comes time to choose the wording on your tombstone.

For that, you’ll want an epitaph—an inscription that encapsulates your life. Note, it’s the inscription, not the actual tombstone, that’s the epitaph. Maybe you’ve heard or read about people hurling epitaphs, but unless it’s a six-hundred-pound gorilla doing the hurling, it’s just not that likely they are tossing gravestones.

What they’re hurling are epithets—derogatory names or slurs. Continue Reading…

To Apostrophe or Not—That Is the Question

Sometimes punctuation is a matter of context. Attributive vs. possessive nouns are a case in point. Is the second Sunday in May Mother’s Day, Mothers’ Day, or Mothers Day?

First, a quick review of the distinction in each of those examples:

  • Mother’s Day – singular possessive
  • Mothers’ Day – plural possessive
  • Mothers Day – plural noun, attributive

Attributive nouns are nouns that are used as adjectives. In the third example, Mother, normally a noun, is used as an adjective. That makes it an attributive noun, which does not take an apostrophe. Continue Reading…