The Beatles had it right — for a pun, anyway

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.

He’s a real loose canon

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.

An actual Loose Canon with copyright and everything!
An actual Loose Canon with copyright and everything!

Do you complete me, or are you just being nice?

We’ll continue our tour through Homophone Hell today with complement and compliment. Technically, there’s a slight difference in the correct pronunciation of each word, but in practice they sound virtually identical.

“Complement” has to do with completing, making whole, or improving something.  Here are two examples of it as a noun: “Those pumps are a perfect complement to her suit.”  “The baby was born with less than the usual complement of toes.”  And here it is as a verb: “This dusting of glitter complements the winter scene on the card better than a smattering of sequins would.”

“Compliment” is also a noun and a verb, and it concerns saying nice things or the things being said. Here, it’s a noun: “I know you said my eyes reminded you of a Brown Swiss cow’s, but I didn’t take that as a compliment.” (Note: She should have. Cows have lovely eyes.) And in this sentence, it’s a verb: “The next time he compliments her eyes, he’ll know better than to use a farm animal in his wording.”

It will probably help to remember that “complete” and “complement” both contain e’s but no i’s, and that “compliment” and “nice” each contain an i and an e.

A compliment about the gift you received is a good complement to any thank-you note you write.

 

 

 

Sneak a peek at that peak to pique your interest

Well, I suppose you know what this post is about now, don’t you. We’re descending into homophone hell today with that terrible trio, peek/peak/pique.

Peek means to look quickly, usually surreptitiously and often from some kind of hiding place (like behind a curtain or around a corner). “Take a peek and see if Mom’s home yet!” There are two e’s in “peek,” and two e’s in “see” and in “eye.” That might help you, as a mnemonic.

Peak means the top of a mountain, or (as a verb) to reach the highest point of (something). “The Dow peaked at 14963.82 today at close of trading.” (Okay, it hasn’t closed yet today, but that’s where it sits right now as I write this post. That’s also not a peak, since it’s off by over 100 points . . . but I digress. The usage is correct, even if my facts are outright wrong.) There’s an a in “peak,” and an a in “mountain,” too. There’s also an a in “stand,” and you can stand on top of a mountain peak. One of those is bound to work as a mnemonic for peak.

Pique means to stimulate or irritate, as in to pique one’s interest in something or to be piqued by something. “He was quickly piqued by her rudeness to the waiter.” There’s an i in “pique,” and there are i’s in both “stimulate” and “irritate.” See the pattern to my mnemonics? Of course you do.

So . . . offer your readers a sneak peek into your next work. Dream of the day your career reaches its peak, and hope that it doesn’t decline too swiftly for you to enjoy the ride. And, if it does tank, don’t be piqued.

 

“Ex cathedral” is a great photo caption

This post could be subtitled “Know your Latin phrases.”

The correct phrase is ex cathedra, literally “from the chair.” The pope is said to speak ex cathedra, meaning he speaks with authority vested in him by virtue of his office.  The phrase can be used for others as well; anyone who speaks from an authoritative position can be said to speak ex cathedra (even copyeditors).

Seeing this spelled with an -l is jarring, to say the least. As someone said to me when I mentioned it, “That’d make a great caption for a photo of a pile of rubble.”

Unintentional humor has it place, but I’m pretty sure the writer of this particular work wasn’t looking for a laugh. Oops.

 

 

I’d enjoy football more if teams had names like this.

Coincidence is a funny thing. The last typo shaming I posted here on the blog was about a big sign at a football stadium that misspelled that notoriously hard-to-master word, “welcome.”

Just a day later, a friend alerted me to another football-related typo. At first I didn’t believe her; the mistake seemed too ridiculous. I thought she’d fallen for Photoshoppery. But alas, it’s true.

The Notre Dame Fighting Irish played a home game against the Temple Owls. As a treat for fans, Notre Dame made a souvenir soda cup with the team’s nickname emblazoned around the top.

Only someone transposed two letters, turning the team into the Fig Thing Irish.

figthing

Dennis Brown, spokesman for the university, said they weren’t going to blame anyone, and the cups would be fixed before the next home game.

I say leave them as is. Who wouldn’t want to watch the Fig Things take the field?

(Photo comes from here.)

You’re very weclome.

Last week (on September 9), the Houston Texans and the San Diego Chargers fought it out on Monday Night Football. The Texans were down for much of the game until they rallied to score a whole bunch of points* for a late comeback victory.

I’d like to think they were inspired by the sign that hung in Qualcomm Stadium, welcoming them to San Diego.

Chargers-Weclome

I mean, there’s just no way the Texans could let the bad spellers win. (Photo from here.)

If you’re going to make a mistake, make it a really big one that gets shown on TV and spread around the web, I always say.

* Yes, this is the technical term for it. Shut up.

Memories stay (and so do typos)

“Moments Fade, But Memories Stay.” That’s the motto on the cover of the 2013 yearbook for Moorhead (Minnesota) High School.

True enough. In fact, students this year will have a special kind of memory.

yearbook

The name of their school is misspelled on the cover of the yearbook. The cover says “Moorehead High School.” And Moorhead also happens to be the name of the town, so you’d think it would be the kind of word that’d be hard to get wrong.

Supposedly, the cover was checked by an adviser and several classes of students who worked on the yearbook. (A spokeswoman for the school district said they aren’t granting interviews with the unnamed adviser. I’d go into hiding, too.)

The district doesn’t have the money to reprint the yearbooks. Instead, they’re talking about putting a sticker over the error.

I like this quote from Moorhead junior Zach Ahrends: “[It’s] kind of sad they can’t spell our city’s name right.”

At least it will give the students something to write about in each other’s yearbooks when they get tired of 2 COOL 2 BE 4 GOTTEN.

(Thanks to this site for reporting on the story. That’s where the above photo comes from.)

 

Typos 150 Yards Tall and other stories

There sure seem to be plenty of typos in the news lately. (Probably the Mayans again.)

First, a man in Washington state used his tractor to plow a marriage proposal into a field. The letters were 150 yards tall. He flew his girlfriend, Jody, up in a plane so she could see the popped question from above. Unfortunately, his tractor didn’t have a spellcheck—he had plowed the first letter of her name backward.

(The photo comes from this site; I added the arrow.)

Next, we have another entry in the Worst Possible Way to Misspell “Public” Sweepstakes. This one also comes from Washington state. (Something in the water?) The Washington Charter School Resource Center placed a newspaper ad to spotlight an upcoming conference. Neither the center nor the newspaper noticed that a crucial “L” was missing from the word “public.”

(The photo comes from this site. Interestingly, the story there links to a similar mishap that happened in May 2012, when the University of Texas handed out commencement programs to families of students graduating from the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs. Yeah—you know what happened.)

Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs issues pubic typo correction

Longtime readers of this blog might remember a banner displayed at a football game that asked sponsors to “become a partner in pubic education.”

And finally, the Toronto Sun newspaper recently ran a correction notice to fix an error about whether teachers had been paid during a work stoppage. Unfortunately, they now need to run a correction about the correction.

(The photo comes from this site; I added the arrow.)

Is there a lesson to learn here? Maybe it’s just that no matter how bad your typo is, at least it’s not plowed into the ground 150 yards tall. Probably. I can’t vouch for all of you.

Carved in stone

Some mistakes are harder to erase than others. In Oklahoma, state representative Mike Ritze sponsored a bill (and donated money) to install a granite monument of the Ten Commandments on the grounds of the state capitol building. The monument is 6 feet tall and 3 feet wide, and it weighs 2,000 pounds.

One potential problem is that it might invite a lawsuit from the American Civil Liberties Union because the monument violates the separation of church and state. But perhaps of more immediate concern is the fact that the granite contains a few spelling errors.

The Fourth Commandment mistakenly says, “Remember the Sabbeth day, to keep it holy.” (The correct spelling is Sabbath.)

The Tenth Commandment says, “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidseruant . . .” That final word, of course, should be maidservant. (Or perhaps this is actually a clever way to get around the rule. “Hey, God’s totally cool with me coveting my neighbor’s maidservant! It’s just the maidseruants I’ve gotta stay away from.”)

Ritze plans to have the misspellings corrected. No word on whether he’s adding another commandment that says, “Thou shalt not skip the spellcheck.”

The photo comes from this site.