Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Homophones: John's Pet Peeves Number 7

I haven't done a Pet Peeves post in nearly a year. Have I been on a path of inner Zen, full of peaceful meditation? No, I've been just as annoyed at things, but haven't shared my annoyance. You're welcome. But thanks to this facebook post, I have a topic. In case that link doesn't work for you, it started out with a complaint about people using grizzly when they mean grisly, and people chimed in with their favorite homophone errors. (Words that sound alike, but with different meanings and spellings.)

One of the biggest problems is that these beasties hide from spell checkers. You need a tool that's context-sensitive to find them. Take for instance my parenthetical statement above. I accidentally wrote "a like" instead of "alike" before I fixed it. Some tools will catch that. Others won't. That leaves us needing to know the difference on our own if we want to write clearly and correctly. Never trust your tools blindly, because they can be wrong. I once sent out a resume with the word "internet" replaced with "interment." The spell checker thought it looked just fine. The funny part is that I got that job anyway.

Writing English can be a big challenge for some, and these beasties are one of the big reasons why it can be hard to write the right word.

So in the interest of enlightenment (and giving me a chance to vent about a pet peeve), I've gathered a few homophone errors for your perusal.

Not a word: (I'll avoid most non-words since spell checkers will find these for you. Only one really bugs me a lot.)

  • "alot": Not a word. "a lot": Many things, or a grouping of things, or an area. "allot": To distribute or assign. You wouldn't write "alittle", so don't write "alot". You can allot a lot of little lots lots of times.
Wrong word: (in random-ish order)
  • "grisly": Gory. "grizzly": a kind of bear. I included this one because it was what started the whole discussion on facebook. That headless fish is a grisly  prize in the grizzly's maw.
  • "awhile": An adverb. "a while": A noun phrase. If it doesn't work replacing it with "for a short time", then use "a while." In a while, stand there awhile. Sometimes they're interchangeable, but it may change what the sentence means in subtle ways.
  • "aloud": The process of not being done quietly. "a loud": An adjective describing the state of something. A loudspeaker reproduced a noise that a loud speaker at the microphone didn't intend to make aloud.
  • "board": A piece of wood. Usually. "bored": Nothing to do. I'm so bored I'll board this door up. Yeah, I cheated and verbed the noun because it's allowed in this case.
  • "brake": Something used to stop movement. "break": to come apart, or a time to rest. If the brakes fail during your break, the car will roll away and break that wall.
  • "led": To be taken somewhere. "lead": Present tense of "led," or to be in charge, or a metal on the periodic table, or the first of something, or a clue. He led me to the lead paint as the lead item on his lead list.
  • "lose": To not win, or to misplace. "loose": not held in place. Don't lose loose buttons.
  • "than": A comparison. "then": used to order in time. He was taller than her, then he grew.
  • "write": To put words on paper. "right": To be correct. "rite": A ceremony. Write the right rite. (Put the correct ceremony on paper.) -or- Write the rite right. (Put the ceremony on paper without errors.)
  • "baited": To have bait on it. "bated": stopped or reduced. I waited with bated breath as he baited the hook with a worm. Baited breath makes me think of eating worms.
  • "peek": To look surreptitiously. "peak": a high point. "pique": To irritate, or stimulate curiosity. I peeked at the peak of his head to pique his interest.
  • "stationary": Not moving. "stationery": Writing paper. The stationery was stationary until I moved it, but it was still stationery as it moved.
  • "there": A place. "their": Denotes ownership. "they're": a contraction of "they are." Their friends are over there where they're arguing over homophones.

One fun thing about homophones is that they can work merry mischief when a book goes to audio. Something that's perfectly clear in print may be a jumbled mass of identically sounding words, as you can see by some of my contrived and convoluted examples. Be careful out there if you think your writing might ever be read aloud.

I found some of my favorites on other lists like this and this. There are more tickling the back of my mind, so I may add others when they rear their ugly heads.