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Proletariat is an old term for the working class. It was commonly used by Marxists and other people who believed that capitalism had created a class of workers who were exploited by company owners. They called those owners "the bourgeoisie."

When you use the word proletariat now, your audience might assume that you've arrived in a time machine from the 19th century and you're still angry about the exploitation of workers. So you probably would use the term self-consciously or humorously, as in “The boss just sent around a memo saying no one’s allowed to leave until we’ve finished compiling the report. I guess the proletariat had better forget about making it home in time to watch the kick-off.”

Choose your words

Caught between words? Learn how to make the right choice.

who/ whom

To Whom It May Concern: who is a subject and whom is an object. Who acts and whom receives. Say what? Who is like "he" or "she" and whom is like "him" or "her." Who is collecting money for homeless kittens? He is! Then to whom does the money go? Send the money to him.

dual/ duel

Seeing double? Not quite! Dual is two, or double, but a duel is a fight. If you’re getting sick of your fair-weather friend’s dual personality, perhaps you should throw down your glove and challenge him to a duel at high noon.

grisly/ gristly/ grizzly

Blood, guts, and man-eaters, oh my! Faint of heart turn back now! Grisly means relating to horror or disgust, gristly means related to gristle or cartilage, and grizzly is a big ol' bear. That can eat you.

instant/ instance

Around the office, we might like an instance of tea, but we vehemently oppose instant tea. read more...

precedent/ president

How has the United States affected this word pair, precedent and president? Let's find out. read more...

unconscionable/ unconscious

These two words look and sound similar. In fact, if you think too hard about them together, you might find your tongue tripping over them. read more...

See all Choose Your Words articles »
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