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:
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.