I'm Maeve Maddox.

I write about English usage, public education, and US popular culture. Welcome to my site.


I also write posts at the AmericanEnglishDoctor for parents and teachers who want to know how to teach children to read and write before it's too late.

Jeopardy: Stanch and Staunch

Jeopardy clues are written by a team of nine writers. One of their goals is to ensure there’s only one possible response:

“A member of [the] team first double-sources each fact with reputable sources – usually an encyclopedia, dictionary or other appropriate resource material. If the clue passes that test, the researcher then tries to come up with any possible alternative responses to the clue; if unable to come up with one, the researcher can consider this clue “pinned.” If clues do not pass these double-sourcing or pinning tests, the writers will rework them as necessary until they get approval from the research team.” —Jeopardy site

Even with all this care, some of the clues are misleading , ambiguous, or downright incorrect.

The other day, a Jeopardy clue asked for “a word that, as a verb, means ‘stop the flow’ and as an adjective means ‘strong, firm, true to one’s principles.’ ”

The answer stanch—pronounced by the contestant to rhyme with ranch—was accepted. Had I been a contestant, I would have found the clue ambiguous.

To me, the verb that means “stop the flow” is not spelled the same as the adjective that means “strong, firm, true to one’s principles.” I might pronounce stanch and staunch more or less the same, but I would not spell them the same. They are two different words.

The Jeopardy I watch is a US production aimed at American English speakers. One of the program’s chief references is the Oxford English Dictionary, a British publication. The OED is also my preferred dictionary. However, as my writing is targeted primarily to American readers, when OED recommendations differ from US sources, I usually defer to the latter.

Stanch does occur as an adjective in old books and periodicals (1930 and earlier), but modern usage favors reserving stanch for use as a verb and staunch as an adjective.

As long ago as 1926, British usage expert H.W. Fowler (Modern English Usage) acknowledged a distinction: “The adjective is usually staunch; the verb stanch.”

The American dictionary Merriam-Webster, ever eclectic, accepts a variety of spellings and pronunciations for both stanch and staunch, but the US style books I rely on make a distinction between verb and adjective.

Chicago Manual of Style: “The adjective is usually staunch, the verb stanch.

AP Stylebook: Staunch is an adjective meaning “ardent and faithful.” Stanch is a verb meaning “to stop the flow”; it is almost always used in regard to bleeding, literally and metaphorically.

Much of the entertainment offered by Jeopardy to its viewers lies in the delight of getting the “right” answer. The stanch/staunch clue doesn’t afford all viewers that delight.

The Difference Between "Advise" and "Advice"

If you’re selling, spelling counts. People who write for a living have no excuse to misuse ordinary English

Continue reading The Difference Between “Advise” and “Advice”


The disconnect between the spelling and pronunciation of some English words is not a sinister plot to annoy English

Continue reading February

Beware of Whom with Parenthetical Expressions

This morning the following caption appeared in a Democrat-Gazette article about a bank robbery:
Springdale police are searching for this man whom they say robbed an Arvest Bank branch Thursday.
The error with whom in this caption is common in sentences that contain a parenthetical phrase or clause: a group of words thrown into another clause, separating

Continue reading Beware of “Whom” with Parenthetical Expressions

New Word: DeVossed

A Google search for “devossed” in quotation marks brings up only 521 hits on February 9, 2017, but my spidey sense tells me this word is destined to achieve greater numbers in the following weeks and months.
The Urban Dictionary has already posted an entry:
DEVOSSED: When the last tiny shred of hope is shattered. Origin: Betsy

Continue reading New Word: DeVossed

10 Requests to the Press

Please stop reaching for false equivalencies in an effort to appear unbiased. You’re not being biased when you acknowledge that something bad is

Continue reading 10 Requests to the Press


We need a Secretary who will reform the Department of Education, not gut the public school

Continue reading NOT DeVos

What Makes A Word Fancy?

If dossier is a “fancy French word,” wouldn’t imprimatur be a “fancy Latin

Continue reading What Makes A Word “Fancy”?

Anger in the Air

Have you ever made a survey-caller so angry he left you shaking when you hung

Continue reading Anger in the Air

A New Shibboleth

Cartoon by Bennett, Chattanooga Times Free Press
A reader writing a letter to the editor in my daily paper described an incident in which he went shopping, filled his basket with items totaling about $300 and then walked out of the store without completing his purchases.
What prompted him to do that?
When he entered the check-out line and

Continue reading A New Shibboleth