#HomophoneHell: Bear and Bare

I see this error so often in both edited and unedited work, I have to write about it. As usual, it’s something I never had trouble with, so I have problems understanding why it’s so hard to get it right. I’m mean like that. However, I’ll do my best to explain. I’m helpful like that, too.

The issue isn’t with bear as a noun. I never see that misused. The issue is with bear as a verb. “The right to keep and bear arms” as stated in the second amendment to the Bill of Rights is probably one of the most famous usages in AmE. There, it means “carry” or “use.” (I’m not looking this up; I find that providing my own words usually helps people more than quoting dictionaries. If you want to look it up, I’m sure you know how to go about that.) Bear can also mean “endure” or “withstand,” as in “It’s more than I can bear.” (“I can’t take it anymore.”)

Women bear (carry and birth, “birth” used as a verb here) children. We all have our burdens to bear (carry, endure). Sometimes they’re crosses. Sometimes they’re not.

Bare has nothing to do with carrying or enduring, and a lot to do with being uncovered or revealed. “The wolf bared its teeth.” (They were hidden by its lips, but it snarled, pulling its lips back, and thereby bared them.) A sleeveless shirt leaves one’s arms bare (revealed, naked, uncovered). Ground might be bare (naked in the sense of there being no vegetation whatsoever). Bare can also mean minimum (as in the repetitive phrase “bare minimum” or as in “the bare necessities,” made famous by Baloo the Bear in the Disney animated version of “The Jungle Book” — a bear, singing about bare … ). Then there’s “lay bare,” to expose. There’s a lot of that going on in this election year. Threadbare fabric has been worn thin.

So — if you’re enduring something, you’re bearing it. (Perhaps badly, but even so, you’re bearing it.) If you’re carrying something, you’re bearing it. If you’ve taken off a garment, you might be baring part of your body. If you’re having an emotional moment, you could be said to “bare your soul” — to expose it to others.

Bear the standard of proper usage high, my readers. Lay bare the misunderstandings that lead to homophone errors!


#HomophoneHell: Stationary/stationery

The word pair is right up there (::points to the blog post title::): stationary and stationery. They sound exactly the same, and sadly the latter has fallen into disuse to the point where some people don’t even know the word anymore.

Something stationary is stable, unmoving. Stable and stationary both have an A in them. That might help you remember. (I know, there’s also an E in stable. However, the problem syllable isn’t “sta,” it’s “ary.”)

Stationery is paper goods for writing letters or note cards. Some people include writing implements in the category, since you can’t write a letter on stationery without a writing implement. You remember letters, don’t you? We wrote those before we had email. (Some of us still do it.) Stationery shops can still be found if you hunt hard enough; of course, if you’re not in the mood for hoofing it, you can always shop online. The words letter, pen, and envelope all contain the letter E, and so does stationery. That’s always been my mnemonic for it. (You’ll note I use words that do NOT also contain an A. That would be madness.)

You hold your stationery stationary with your hand while you write your letter.

#HomophoneHell Is Coming!

It’s almost time for #HomophoneHell again (October’s coming up fast!), so I’m getting the jump on it with this post about some of the most troublesome words in English: lead/led, and their rhyming partners read/red. For whatever reason, I don’t see the last ones misused nearly as often as the first ones. Continue reading

Book Discussion: Accidence Will Happen, by Oliver Kamm

Right off the bat, let me say that there isn’t a typographical error in the title. I wager most of this blog’s followers know that, but some might not. My college-student stepdaughter winced when she saw my copy of this lying on the table, and said, “That typo on the cover, though.” I set her straight immediately.

Accidence is that portion of grammar that deals with inflection. Inflection is the way a word changes to denote a specific grammatical category. For example: “Sang” is the past tense of “sing.” We know that because it changes form. It changes again for the past participle “sung.” Of course, that’s an irregular form. The same process happens with regular verbs, like talk/talked/talked, but by adding a suffix instead of altering the spelling of the root form. It happens with nouns, too: cat/cats, goose/geese. Now you know, if you didn’t before.

Now that I’ve concluded the brief grammar lesson, on to the discussion. Continue reading

Titular or eponymous?

Here’s the definition of “titular.”

Here’s the one for “eponymous.”

Note that initially, “titular” has nearly nothing to do with the title of a book or story or what have you. It has to do with a title, as in an office (like queen or king or president), and with that title being “in name only” with no actual power. Continue reading

“Okay,” quoth he

That’s extreme, but it’s also an example of today’s subject: choosing the right words for your work.

One of my biggest concerns when I’m editing is “voice.” I work hard to maintain my clients’ “writer’s voice,” because it’s their writing, not mine, that is being published. Part of that work is helping them choose the best words for the purpose. And part of THAT work is, quite often, teaching them about diction.

Not in the sense of “enunciation or elocution.” In the sense of word choice. None of my clients would come up with a sentence like the one I used for the title of this post. Some of them, though, have more trouble than others keeping a grasp on the language that best suits their purpose. It’s particularly difficult with “medieval fantasy,” a phrase I’m using here to encompass “the usual” in terms of a story with a pseudo-medieval setting, royalty, wizards, magic, dragons, elves (and perhaps orcs and so on), and the like. Your standard fantasy, perhaps.

When I’m reading a story with this kind of setting, nothing jars me more than modern speech patterns, phrases, and words. “Okay” is one of them. “Alright” (sic) is another. (Yes, I sicced that. I don’t like it. I’ve tried to get used to it, but — no. I see no point in it. I waffle about allowing it or not, and ultimately, if my clients overrule me, that’s on them. I mark it every time.) “Are you really going there?” is yet another, when used to mean “Are you actually taking that route in this conversation?” These words and phrases have no place, in my opinion, in a medieval fantasy setting unless there’s time travel involved. If a character from our modern world winds up in that setting? Well, I’d expect that character to speak appropriately for their origin, and for the other characters to be confounded by it.

Certainly there’s no need to write in the style of Shakespeare in order to write fantasy. But there’s no reason not to use appropriate language and sentence structures, either. The words shape the reader’s experience. What do you want your reader to see, hear, feel, taste, touch? For me as a reader, a voice that seems to have no direction, that wanders between the language I expect to encounter in a fantasy setting and that I hear every day, confuses me. I don’t know what I’m supposed to be seeing, hearing, feeling . . . I need to be grounded in the world the writer’s created. The diction is the basis for that grounding. It’s entirely possible to use simple sentences and words to achieve this, just as it’s possible to use complex ones. The secret is in the combinations. I am not a writer, but I know when I’m drawn into a story and when I’m left floundering.

Hook me. Pull me in. Let me breathe the air of your world. Don’t throw me back out with poorly chosen words.

They were all together in the altogether.

Meaning, they were all in the same place (“all together”) and they were naked (“in the altogether”).

“Altogether” can mean “entirely or completely,” too: “That was altogether uncalled for.”

(And just now I looked at the word “together” and pondered why it looks the way it does. I do that, sometimes.)

“I’m glad to hear he’s not gone [all together, altogether].”

The first option doesn’t make sense, really. He’s not gone all in the same place? What? He’s not gone completely. He’s not gone altogether.

This is the kind of post that comes to me sometimes when I’m reading social media. Perhaps the person who wrote “all together” knows it should’ve been “altogether” but didn’t bother to edit, or to read before posting. It makes no difference to me, honestly — except when I’m being paid to edit, or when I’m looking for post fodder.

That’s not Shakespearean.

My brain just said those words as I was reading the etymology for “layabout.”

I was sure, in my head, that the word had to be Shakespearean. It sounds Shakespearean. I’m sure I’ve heard or read it in pieces that are set, chronologically, well before 1932.

And yet, there’s the date, in black and gray (that box isn’t white, it’s gray). 1932. American. The word doesn’t even have the courtesy to be British.

The Merriam-Webster Unabridged Online site further explains that “lay” in this sense is the “nonstandard alteration of lie about.” I figured as much, but it’s always comforting to see such a thing in print.

Then there’s the other term, “to lay about,” which means “to strike randomly in all directions.” As in “He laid about with a mace and still managed to strike nothing.” Here’s the link to Etymology Online’s entry, showing the “put down (often by striking)” meaning.

I suppose, then, that a layabout might lay about if awakened suddenly.


I don’t love you (anymore, any more)

Which one would you choose?

There really is a difference in meaning in AmE. They’re not interchangeable, and a copy editor worth their salt will be able to tell the difference.

“Anymore” is an adverb. “I don’t like pizza anymore. I ate myself sick on it, and now I can’t even smell the stuff without turning green.”

“Any more” isn’t the same thing. “I don’t want any more pizza. I’m afraid I’ll eat myself sick on it.” Here, “more” is an adjective (it modifies “pizza”). If you simply said “I don’t want any more,” “more” would be a pronoun (it stands for the thing you want no more of).

It might help to think “adverb” and “anymore” because both are single words. If you mean the adverb, use “anymore.”

As for the answer to the title question, if this is a complete sentence, then “anymore” is the word you want. “I don’t love you anymore.” (I no longer love you.) If there’s more coming, you might want “any more” — but it depends on what’s coming, y’know? “I don’t love you any more than I love my other three partners.” Or something. You figure it out. Please.

People who/that live in glass houses

Because, you see, either pronoun is absolutely correct in that usage.

Ed Greenwood (whom I’ve known, literally, for decades, and whose work I’ve edited) asked me to write a post about “all the folks who use ‘that’ for people, instead of ‘who.'” I have to presume, therefore, that Ed (I LOVE YOU, ED) eschews the usage of “that” for people. Continue reading