May 22nd, 2012 .


Pat Morden

For some reason my father always thought it very amusing to ask what was for desert after we had cleared the meat and potatoes from the table, as if he expected the next course to be hot, dry and sandy.

He was playing a game with two homophones. Homophones are words that sound alike or nearly alike but have different meanings. It’s a new term to me, but I’ve decided that I must be rampantly homophonic — it drives me nuts when people choose the wrong word!

I’m frustrated when someone is given free reign to pursue a course of action.  When two people are considered to have complimentary skills. When someone is phased by the challenge that faces her. When a leader’s strong principals are praised.

It actually puts me off my food when someone speaks of feeling nauseous (which means causing nausea), rather than nauseated, (which means enduring nausea).

On the other hand, I have to admit that I have a hard time remembering which is which between discrete (which means distinct or separate), and discreet (which means tactful or prudent).

So what’s a person to do with a language that seems deliberately designed to confuse and ultimately embarrass its users? Easy! Go online and download a list of common homophones. Or create a list of your own personal bugbears. Keep them tucked in a drawer until the next time you wonder, is that amoral or immoral, eminent or imminent, insure or ensure . . .?


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