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. Continue reading “#HomophoneHell: Bear and Bare”
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 “#HomophoneHell Is Coming!”
One October I made this a theme, because of that whole Halloween/devil/demon/hell thing.
It’s not really seasonal at all, though. Homophone hell is ever present. Here’s the proof.
If you follow me over at G+, you might know that I’ve recently embraced the new Collections feature.
I’m gradually moving all of my relevant posts into appropriate collections, like “Broad Daylight Editing,” “GUMmy Stuff: Grammar, Usage, Mechanics,” and “Why I Edit (And Why You Might Hire Me).” Most of what I post over there has some relevance to some facet of editing, and I’m finding I have a LOT of content to sort through. It’s a good thing I made liberal use of hashtags like #GramrgednBasics, #MorningMechanics, and #RealEditorsProofBetter; that makes it pretty simple to find what I need to move.
I also have a GRAMMARGEDDON! collection, just for posts from here. I always posted a link there when I put up a new post here; now, that’s all automated thanks to Jetpack (the WP plugin) for self-hosted sites. Once I post this, I can go over there, find the post, and reshare it to the appropriate collection. Easy peasy, as they say.
I hope that folks will follow me here AND at G+. A lot of what I post there are one-offs that wouldn’t make good blog posts, to my way of thinking, because they’re not deep enough. Which reminds me: I need to create a #HomophoneHell collection! ::cackles::
All right, then. I’ve told you what I needed to tell you. I’ll see you around, I’m sure.
“Capital” and “capitol” are very easily (and very often) confused. “Capitol” is only and ever and always a building. Think of the round O-shape of a dome. Think of stone, of doors, of windows. All those things echo the “O” in “capitol.” One is bound to work for you as a mnemonic. If this word refers to a specific building, it will be capitalized as a proper noun or proper adjective. “Protesters in Washington, D.C. congregated on the Capitol steps.” However, it can just as easily be a common noun: “While the class was in the capital, they toured the capitol and other important sites”.
“Capital” is never a building. (This is one of the few times I feel safe using that adverb.) The capital can be a city (Madison is the capital of Wisconsin). It can be a letter (city names begin with a capital letter). It can mean “the center of a specific activity or industry” (Hollywood has been called the entertainment capital of the world). In the UK and countries where UK English is the usual, “capital” can mean “excellent,” as it does in the heading for this post.
For some reason, this pairing has been turning up all over of late in various grammar-related places. I’m far from the only one to have addressed it. Here is a link to the Grammarist article, which I think is one of the best.
Yes, folks, it’s another descent into #HomophoneHell this time. By request, even–you can thank my pal Deborah Bancroft over at Dispatches from Wordnerdia.
First, let me assure you that at this point in time, there’s no danger of these words becoming hopelessly confused to the point of losing one to the other. Not yet, anyway. Garner’s Modern American Usage categorizes the confusion of “discrete” for “discreet” as Stage 1 (just about everyone can recognize it’s an error), and the reverse as Stage 2 (becoming more common, but still not accepted in standard usage; while it might appear as a variant in a dictionary listing, that hardly condones the usage.) I’ll suggest that people are generally more familiar with “discreet,” and so tend to use that one instead of “discrete” more often than they do the opposite. (The majority of my personal experience with “discrete” occurred in high-school geometry class.)
Let me remind you at this juncture that a dictionary (any dictionary) provides a snapshot of usage at a specific moment in time (the copyright year). Just because something appears in a dictionary does not mean that thing is correct, necessarily; it means that thing is common enough to merit an entry. Depending on the dictionary, there could be a usage note attached to such an entry indicating that it’s nonstandard (or a variant or what have you). If you want to be sure of having information about proper usage, you need a usage manual. All right. Onward.
“Discrete” means “separate.” “Discreet” means “cautious, circumspect.” Indeed, they come from the same Latin word: discretus. If you’re having several separate affairs, I suggest you be very cautious about discussing them with people lest they become intermingled (and thus neither discrete nor discreet).
As for a helpful mnemonic: The Es in “discrete” are separated by a T. Discrete = separate
(image thanks to Morguefile.com)
You’ve already guessed, I’m sure, because you’re smart people. Here’s another Homophone Hell pairing: past and passed. One’s a modifier or preposition or noun, the other a verb form. And as I was reminded late yesterday, they’re evil for some people. Let’s see if I can help.
Past can be a modifier, a preposition, or a noun. As a modifier, it can denote a time (“the past year,” where it’s an adjective because it modifies a noun) or a position of a verb (“a robin flew past the window,” an adverbial use telling us “where” as part of the prepositional phrase “past the window” modifying “flew”). As a preposition, it also denotes a position, but explains a time or place (“the shadows reached past the fence to the outer edge of the yard” [there’s that adverbial use again, telling “where”] or “be ready at half past eight”).
Passed is the past tense of the verb to pass. (Note “past” in “past tense” — an adjective use.) “She passed her classes with B’s and C’s this term.” “The car passed that semi illegally.” “He passed away last year from complications caused by an infection.”
I don’t have a handy, brief, catchy mnemonic, but I will leave you with this:
She was so busy writing about her past, the dinner hour passed her by.
Well, no. She left him at the altar.
This particular pair of homophones is one of the most troublesome, based on what I see come across my desk. Perhaps I can provide some helpful hints for telling them apart, so you’ll know which one you should be using in a given situation. We’ll see . . .
An altar is a raised surface, first of all. It could be a simple table, or a flat rock, or perhaps an elaborately constructed piece of furniture with storage space underneath, hidden behind doors or curtains. But I digress. An altar is a surface on which one puts ritual items, for the purpose of then enacting said ritual. I’ll wager most of you readers are familiar with the altar at the front of a church (Catholic, Protestant, doesn’t matter — churches have altars). I’ll also wager that a number of you are equally familiar with the pagan analog, usually set at the center of the ritual space. (Not that I’d know about that or anything . . . ::cough::) If you’re writing about a ritual, you’ll likely need to use the word altar.
Altar can be used figuratively, as well. They worship at the altar of freedom.
Alter is foremost a verb, meaning to change something. I say “foremost,” because there’s also the psychiatric usage meaning “a distinct and separate personality” when talking about people with Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID, formerly Multiple Personality Disorder [MPD]). She has fifty-four alters. However, unless you’re writing a piece on DID, you’ll probably be using the verb form and talking about something being altered. Think of “alterations” made to clothes by a tailor or a seamstress. They alter the clothing.
Alter is also the verb used to mean “to spay or neuter an animal.” The procedure changes the animal, so that it can no longer reproduce.
Alter is also the word in “alter ego,” meaning a different side of a personality or even a close friend who holds the same views as one’s own. It’s important to note, I think, that this is the common usage; we can all have alter egos, but not be diagnosed with DID. It literally means “second I.” Drinking brings out his alter ego; he’s quite the Jekyll and Hyde.
It will probably help to remember that “alter” is part of “alternative” and “alternate.” If you need a word that denotes change, something different from the expected, you want alter.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to alter my altar setup for the upcoming feast day.
Today’s tour of Homophone Hell visits several words: core, corps, corpse, and corp (the latter properly styled Corp.).
Why the Beatles? Some readers will recall the company founded by the Fab Four in 1968: Apple Corps. “Corps” is pronounced like “core,” and we know what an apple core is, right? The name’s a wonderful pun on that, in addition to playing on “Corp.”, which is short for “corporation.” More on those two later.
“Core” isn’t the real issue here. I very seldom see this one misused in print. Apparently it’s pretty easy for folks to grasp all around: the core of the matter, a reactor core, etc.
Now, to the problem children.
“Corps” is the word you see when someone talks about the full name of the U.S. Marines: The United States Marine Corps. It’s not an abbreviation. That’s the whole word, right there: corps. It’s also used in the Peace Corps and Job Corps. “Corps” isn’t always capitalized: The press corps was kept waiting for three hours while the Congress threw spitballs across the aisles at one another.
Say “core” when you see “corps,” and know that it means either an organized part of the military, a military group with two or more divisions (in the technical military sense of the word), or a group of people involved in an activity (that’s the press corps). It’s not the Marine Corp., unless you’re talking about a company (Marine) that uses “corporation” in its name (Corp.) — and then you’d say “Marine Corporation.”
“Corps” and “Corp.” seem to be the biggest problems, based on my experience as a copyeditor. (I’ll blame the words, not their users. It’s kinder to all concerned.)
Then we have “corpse.” It’s pronounced as you’d expect: korps. It means a dead body. While you might think it is a homophone for “corps,” it isn’t. (Or, think of it the other way around: “Corps” isn’t a homophone for “corpse.” Whichever way works for you is how you need to think of it.) While dead bodies are certainly offensive to some folks, the word “corpse” isn’t a big offender in this particular arena — I seldom see it misused.
All right, then. “Core” and “corps” are homophones. The latter means an organized group (military or otherwise). “Corpse” is pronounced with the final -s aspirated (meaning it’s a hissing sound). And “corp” isn’t correct unless it’s styled “Corp.” and is used instead of “Corporation.”
Now I think it’s time to check on the press corps, and perhaps send a few nasty emails to the Exxon-Mobil Corp. while I’m at it. Better yet, I’ll pack up some apple cores and ship ’em off to my representatives. They didn’t earn fruit baskets this year.
An email last week reminded me of this particular bit of Homophone Hell: canon and cannon.
The correct word for the titular phrase is, of course, “cannon.” You know what cannons are. They’re those enormous guns, sometimes on ships, sometimes on the ground. They’ve got a wicked recoil when they fire, too. And on a ship, they had to be fastened in position or they posed even more of a danger because they could run a sailor over, being “loose cannons.”
So in our phrase up there in the title, what is “canon?” Well . . . substituting the definition for the word makes a sentence that’s utter rubbish. “He’s a real loose general law or criterion, or a collection of sacred books accepted as genuine.”
Likewise, if you talk about Star Wars canon or Star Trek canon or Whovian canon, you want the one-n spelling. You’re talking about the corpus of information that’s accepted to be the basis of those shows, the core, the “rules” if you will. “That fanfic isn’t canon, and I won’t read it.” It’s not cannon, either, but that’s beside the point. I suppose it could become ammunition . . . naah.
Dean Hamilton wrote a great blog post about these two words over at Tyburn Tree. (And it was his email to me last week that reminded me of this little trip into Homophone Hell!)
And of course, there really is a Loose Canon. Here’s a picture of it. You can get it for yourself over at the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.