Tag Archives: homonyms

Homonyn Horrors

I’ve talked previously about homonyms – words that sound alike, but have different meanings, such as peer and pier – and the importance of knowing the difference between them. Yet, these errors crop up, time and again, as well-meaning people get confused or don’t realize the limits of their vocabularies.

For a writer/editor, it’s jarring to encounter the misuse of a homonym while reading along in an otherwise well-written story or document. It stops me short and breaks the flow of the narrative; it also frustrates me that someone didn’t catch the mistake before the piece was printed/posted. It shows carelessness or ignorance and reflects poorly on the source.

I come across such words regularly, as much as I wish I didn’t. This week, while MountBakerreading through a brand profile provided by a client, I discovered that James enjoys discovering new flavours that “peak” his taste buds. Oy! Peak is generally used as a noun, not a verb, e.g., climbing to the peak of Mount Baker. The writer actually meant pique, or arouse (curiosity, interest, etc.).

The next day, I was scrolling through my Facebook feed and came across an artistically designed, inspirational post from an acquaintance. The sentiment was lovely, but I couldn’t enjoy it fully, because it talked about finding someone to love who “compliments” you. (Hmmm, taken literally, isn’t that a given? Why would you want a lover who insulted you or ignored you?)  Complements, or completes, is the word the author was undoubtedly seeking, and all the work that went into creating the lovely lettering and layout was spoiled by the use of the wrong word.

To what shall I attribute these missteps? A poor educational system? Sloppiness? I know that language is fluid and ever-changing, but mistaken usage isn’t part of that evolution. Let’s get it right!

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Word(s) of Wisdom, March 2, 2015

In English, spelling can be a tricky business for native speakers, let alone for those whose first language is something other than English. I was reminded of such spelling challenges this weekend when a friend of mine, who was born abroad, told me she had enjoyed the delicious “Sheppard’s” (i.e., Shepherd’s) pie that I had served for supper.

Shepherd’s pie combines shredded or ground meat with a potato crust. It apparently dates back to Britain in the 1700s, when potatoes were introduced as common table fare, and it was a dish that allowed cooks to use up their leftover meat creatively. When made with lamb, it is called shepherd’s pie, because grazing sheep were plentiful in the north of England and in Scotland; the beef version is often called cottage pie.

It is easy to see how someone new to Toronto or Canada could mistake shepherd for Sheppard; homonyms, or words that sound alike but are spelled differently, abound in English. For any newcomer who hasn’t seen the term written, it’s simple to assume that it is similar to Sheppard Avenue, a prominent Toronto street.

When I hear a word, I visualize its spelling in my mind – the key is to be able to visualize the CORRECT spelling. Sometime, it’s not as easy as it seems.

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