Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Ripely Rife

Stephanie wrote, “I’m having trouble distinguishing between two similar words. Should I write, the economy is ripe with problems, or the economy is rife with problems”?

While the two words are very close in appearance, they have different meanings. Ripe means fully grown and developed; think of succulent fruit. Since the economy is not at the end of its development, that word doesn’t fit.

Rife means abundant or common; substitute filled with, and it will be clear. Thus, the economy is rife with problems would be the correct choice. The word comes from a nexus of Frisian/Dutch/Germanic/Scandinavian terms that meant copious or abundant.

Keeping our examples in the realm of economics, these would both be proper:
  • Wall Street seems to be rife with initial public offerings this season.
  • According to my sources, the Tekco initial public offering is ripe for plucking.

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