Words used incorrectly: Alas

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iStock

It never ceases to amaze me how many people (smart people, mind you) don’t know the meaning of the word alas. I know people who were accepted to Ivy league schools (okay, one person) who thought alas meant but, until I corrected her. Just this past weekend, I received an e-mail that went like this, and I quote:

I was a little bit busier this week than I thought originally but alas- here it is!

This sentence seems to imply that this (again, smart) person thinks that the word means finally. Giving the guy the benefit of the doubt, perhaps his spell-check changed “at last” to alas, though this wasn’t typed/sent via smartphone, so, er, alas, I'm not so sure.

This post is to set the record straight: alas is an interjection and usually used to express regret, like in the last sentence. Another example would be as follows:

There is a beautiful pool at the hotel where we are staying, but, alas, I cannot swim.

So it’s truth time _flossers: how many people reading this post did NOT know the correct definition? It’s okay; that’s partly what you count on us for here at the blog, no? Leave a comment anonymously if you must, but it would be fun to know. You can also tell us if there’s a word, like alas, that you find people using incorrectly all the time.

What’s the Difference Between Crocheting and Knitting?

djedzura/iStock via Getty Images
djedzura/iStock via Getty Images

With blustery days officially upon us, the most pressing question about your sweaters, scarves, hats, and mittens is probably: “Are these keeping me warm?” If you’re a DIY enthusiast, or just a detail-oriented person in general, your next question might be: “Were these knitted or crocheted?”

Knitting and crocheting are both calming crafts that involve yarn, produce cozy garments and other items, and can even boost your mental well-being. Having said that, they do have a few specific differences.

To knit, you need needles. The size, material, and number of those needles depends on the project; though most traditional garments are made using two needles, it’s also possible to knit with just one needle, or as many as five. But regardless of the other variables, one or both ends of your knitting needles will always be pointed.

While crocheting calls for a similar long, thin tool that varies in size and material, it has a hooked end—and you only ever need one. According to The Spruce Crafts, even if you hear people refer to the tool as a crochet needle, they’re really talking about a crochet hook.

crotchet hook and garment
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Part of the reason you only use one hook brings us to the next difference between crocheting and knitting: When crocheting, there’s only one “active loop” on your hook at any given time, whereas knitting entails lining up loops down the length of your needles and passing them between needles. The blog Darn Good Yarn explains that since each loop is attached to a long row of stitches, accidentally “dropping” one off the end of your needle might unravel the entire row.

Of course, you have a better chance of avoiding that type of manual error if you’re using a knitting machine or loom, which both exist. Crocheting, on the other hand, has to be done by hand. Since machines can create garments with extremely small stitches, some knit clothes can be much more lightweight or close-fitting than anything you’d be able to crochet—and knitted clothes can also be mass-produced.

When it comes to what the items actually look like, crochet stitches characteristically look more like knots, while knit stitches seem flatter and less bulky. However, materials and techniques have come a long way over the years, and now there’s more crossover between what you’re able to knit and crochet. According to The Spruce Crafts, socks and T-shirts—traditionally both garments that would be knitted—can now technically be crocheted.

knitting needles and garment
Sedan504/iStock via Getty Images

And, believe it or not, knitting and crocheting can even be used to depict complicated mathematical concepts: see what a crocheted hyperbolic plane, Lorenz manifold, and more look like here.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

Idioms: One or Two?

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