April 30, 2017

Helping PR pros make smarter decisions

Horrible Homophones

Horrible Homophones

In January, I wrote about Things that bug me more than they should. This post is dedicated to the bane of decent writing everywhere: the rise of the Horrible Homophone.

First let’s tackle what a homophone is, since many people seem to mix homophones up with homonyms. I like this handy-dandy chart:

Homograph Homophone Venn Diagram - Wikimedia Commons. Author: Will Heltsley

Using the graph above, no one would know if you mixed up tire (car wheel) with tire (fatigue) because they are spelled the same. Homophone mix-ups, on the other hand, can make a writer’s blog post or article hard to read or unintentionally hilarious. I have been keeping a running list of homophone confusion I’ve come across online, and it’s surprising (to me at least) in its length. A homophone is a word that *sounds* the same, but the meaning and spelling are different:

  • waivers /wavers: A waiver is a relinquishment of a right or obligation–e.g., a tax waiver form. Someone who wavers is either vacillating or unsteady.
  • pray / prey: Pray–talking to God. Prey–lunch for a wolf. Seen (incorrectly) confused as “They pray upon the weak.” Pray for the weak, maybe. But not “upon” them, that’s prey.
  • bare / bear: Bare–without clothing. Bear–quite a few definitions, ranging from load (bear the weight of the world), to bringing forth (bear a child), to a large fuzzy creature (Smokey the Bear).
  • seems / seams: Seems–appears. Seams–where fabric meets and is sewn (“Coming apart at the seams”).
  • peek, peak, and pique: Peek–quick look. Peak–pointed top, like the peak of a mountain. Pique–to raise interest. So it is “piqued your curiosity,” not peeked or peaked.
  • roll / role: Roll–lots of definitions, from a bread roll to a roll of paper to rolling something across the floor. Role–the part played by an actor or a function in society.
  • insight / incite (these can be particularly amusing when confused in a sentence): Insight–seeing deeply into something. Incite–pick a fight.
  • undo / undue: Undo–take apart. Undue–unwarranted. You undo a bow, most likely to undue praise.
  • throws / throes: Throws–tossing something. Throes–“sharp attack of emotion.”
  • pear, pair, and pare: Pear–fruit, pair–two of something, pare–whittle down. You can pare a pair of pears.
  • sight, site, and cite: Sight–seeing, site–a place; plot of ground (or a website), cite–referencing something.
  • boarder / border: Boarder–a person lodging with you. Border–a boundary line.

And, two more that are just flat wrong but used often enough that it gets under my skin:

  • Writing “per say” instead of the correct “per se.” “Per se” is a Latin phrase meaning “in itself.” “Per say” is a phonetic mess of the correct phrase.
  • Writing “here, here” instead of the correct “hear, hear.” Unless one is calling one’s dog, “here, here” is not correct. “Hear, hear” is the proper use.


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About The Author

Jennifer Zingsheim Phillips is the founder of 4L Strategies, and has worked in communications and public affairs for just over 20 years. Her background includes work in politics, government, lobbying, public affairs PR work, content creation, and digital and social communications and media analysis.

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