I was, until my recent retirement, a film professor (see My students had to do a few papers that analyze some aspect of a film. Some chose to write about color, and I’m often treated to an analysis on pallets, palates, and palettes. Of course, only one of those is correct; the other two, to be fair, are amusing to visualize, and provide the occasional guffaw.

This is a palette:


It’s what painters use to hold their paints. It also refers to the range of colors in an image or film.

This is a palate:


This is also referred to as the roof of your mouth.

And finally, this is a pallet:


A pallet can also be a straw mattress or a makeshift bed.

My students, of course, usually meant “palette” when they wrote.

The biggest thing to remember is that there are three words that sound exactly the same but mean different things. And in the spirit of full disclosure, I confess that sometimes I have to look up the word to make sure I’m writing down the right one!

Who and Whom

This one may seem hard at first, but isn’t all that difficult to figure out. Probably the biggest problem is people who think that using “whom” sounds more elegant and sophisticated than simply using “who.” Not good, and not accurate. The two words are not interchangeable.

Think of it as the difference between using “he” and “him.” If someone is doing the action, we would say “he” is doing it. (We’d never say “him” is doing it, though we still have intelligent people sounding less so by saying “Him and I are doing….”) So if the action is being done BY someone, we’d say “who.”

For those who remember the distinction from English class, “who” is used when it’s the subject, and “whom” is used when the person is the object of some action. So anything before the verb has to be “who.”

These are correct:

Who is that woman?

Who is coming to the party?

Who did that?

Who shall I say is calling?

Still keeping “he” and “him” in mind, when something is being done for someone, or to them, or with them, we would say it’s being done to “him.” In the same way, when something is being done by, for, or to someone we don’t know, we’d say “whom.”

These are correct:

To whom do we give the note? (Or, We give the note to whom?)

Whom should I vote for in the next election season? (There is no good answer to this question, BTW.)

The home improvement company whom you recommended hasn’t returned my calls. (Of course, many people simply drop the “whom” these days in such a sentence.)

Whom do you prefer? In this case, “you” is the main subject, “prefer” is the main verb, and “whom” is the object of your preference. You could just as easily have said, “You prefer whom?”

“For Whom the Bell Tolls” (Thank you, Ernest.)

The distinction between the two words may well disappear in the near future. But for now, it still exists, and figuring out which to use is a good exercise for the brain.

Liable and Likely

The words liable and likely are now being used synonymously, and this post isn’t going to slow down that trend one iota.

Just file this under “Things I never knew” if you tend to use them that way.

The first meaning of the word liable is connected with the law. It means legally obligated or responsible for something, usually making reference to the one who must pay or is going to get in trouble because of something. If your tree hits the neighbor’s roof, you are probably liable for damages. (When you’re thinking being legally responsible, we usually say, liable for.) If it helps you to remember, it’s from a French word meaning, “to bind,” as in legally binding.

That’s the first meaning. Because it is, we tend to use liable when we mean likely with the connotation that something negative could occur: “He’s liable to hurt himself if he keeps that up.”

When we use likely to describe a possibility, it doesn’t carry a positive or negative connotation. It just refers to a strong possibility.

It would be nice to go back to a time when liable just referred to legal situations and likely referred to possibility. But that’s neither liable nor likely to happen!