Literary Life Hacks

They are pronounced the same and therefore easily confused, but “pallet,” “palate” and “palette” are three very different things.

“Pallet” with two L’s and one T has two main meanings: a platform on which goods can be stacked for transport or storage, and a makeshift bed used on the floor or ground. The latter usage can be found in the biblical book of John, when Jesus commands a paralyzed man, “Arise, take up thy pallet and walk,” and in the blues standard “Make Me a Pallet on Your Floor.”

The “palate” with one L and one T is the roof of the mouth. It is most commonly used in reference to food and taste: a discerning or sophisticated palate, a palate cleanser between courses of a meal, the Silver Palate gourmet grocery and cookbook series.

A palette with one L and two T’s is a flat surface on which an artist arranges and mixes paints. It also refers to a group of complementary colors used in a work of art or design.

There’s no handy memory aid for keeping these straight, so if you can’t remember which one is correct for your purposes, ask your local Literary Life Hacker … or Google. 


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We all learned the importance of using the word “please” when asking for something, which is why so many of us, when issuing an invitation, include “Please RSVP.” Please don’t do this.

RSVP stands for “Répondez s'il vous plait,” which is “Respond, please” in French. A whopping 75 percent of RSVP is made up of “please” – literally “if you please,” but you get our drift. An additional “please” before or after RSVP is redundant.

Other common redundant usages that pop up frequently but shouldn’t:

  • ATM machine. ATM stands for “automated teller machine.” 
  • PIN or VIN number. PIN stands for “personal identification number,” and VIN stands for “vehicle identification number.”
  • HIV virus. HIV stands for “human immunodeficiency virus.” 
  • LCD display. LCD stands for “liquid-crystal display.”
  • UPC code. UPC stands for “universal product code.”

There’s a name for this: RAS Syndrome. RAS stands for Redundant Acronym Syndrome, so yes, “RAS Syndrome” has RAS Syndrome.

If you think the redundancy is needed for clarity, spelling out whatever the abbreviation or acronym stands for on first reference makes it even clearer: 

In 2007, sales of television sets with liquid crystal display screens outpaced those of cathode ray tube models. Today, almost all new TVs have LCD screens, and you can’t even give away a CRT set.

If your mom is in your head insisting you spell out “please” when asking for RSVPs, you can always ditch the French and write “Please respond by (your deadline here).”


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They sound alike, and they’re different by only one letter, so it’s easy to confuse “compliment” and “complement.”

“Compliment” with an I is a noun and a verb referring to an expression of praise or admiration.

“Dr. Watson complimented Sherlock Holmes on his deductive reasoning skills. In return, Holmes paid Watson a compliment for his medical knowledge.”

“Complement” with an E is a verb that means go with, complete, enhance or work together well, and a noun referring to things (or people) that do so.

“Holmes and Watson work well together because their personalities complement each other. Watson’s steadiness is a complement to Holmes’ eccentricities.”

The adjective forms – “complimentary” and “complementary” are what trip most people up, especially when we’re talking about free stuff.

“Complimentary” with an I is the correct word to use when referring to tickets, drinks, meals or other things provided at no charge.

“For my birthday, I received a complimentary membership to the Sherlock Holmes Society. The coffee shop where we meet has complimentary Wi-Fi.”

Memory trick: Compliments are nice things to receive. So are freebies. When referring to either, use the word that shares a vowel with the word “nice.”


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Your Literary Life Hacker cringes whenever she sees the word “comradery,” and not because she’s old enough to remember the Soviet Union and the Cold War.

“Comradery” is a real word that describes the friendship and connection experienced among people who spend a lot of time together. So why the cringe?

The more commonly used word is “camaraderie,” from the French “camarade,” meaning roommate or companion. (Fun fact: Both “camaraderie” and “comrade” come from the same Latin root: “camera,”
which means “chamber.”) To someone accustomed to “camaraderie,” the spelling “comradery” just looks incorrect – even though it isn’t.

Be smart, Comrade, and avoid “comradery.” That way you will never be mistaken for someone who can’t spell “camaraderie.”


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“I am honored that Eleanor Expert has written the forward to my new book.”

Congratulations, Arthur D. Author, but Eleanor did not write a “forward.” She wrote a “foreword.”

This is a natural mistake, because the foreword appears “forward” of the book’s content, but the correct term is “foreword” – a word (idiomatically speaking) before the book begins.

Going forward, always use “foreword” when referring to the introduction to a book written by someone other than its author. If the author wrote it, it’s an “introduction.”


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