Monday, August 15, 2011

Words that look far too much alike

It happens that every now and again, when venturing forth through the rough terrain that is the English language, one stumbles upon words that look (homonyms) or sound (homophones)alike. Yet, though these words may look and sound similar, or really exactly the same, their meanings are vastly different.

Homonyms can be tricky because one can say to one's friend, "Meet me at the bank at three o'clock." If you live both by a river and that special place we go to put our money away for safety (and earn ridiculously poor interest), your friend may be in a bit of a quandary. In such a situation, he or she may end up in a swimsuit by the the cool waters of the river, ready for a picnic in the sun; or standing beneath the awnings of the local bank, wondering if you are finally getting that small business loan for your up-and-coming lightsaber business.

Homophones pose a much more serious problem, however. Why? Because though a bank may be a bank, whether a building or the slope of a river, an isle is most certainly never an aisle. Ever.

Yes, we have once again stumbled upon a very specific pet peeve of mine. An isle is a small spit of land surrounded by a body of water. An aisle is a walkway, usually surrounded by seating or shelving. Grocery stores have aisles, not isles. The ocean has isles, not aisles.

If ever in doubt, one may a. Pull out one's compact OED; b. Employ the services of that lovely website known as "Google"; c. use an on-line dictionary such as or or even, my personal favorite,

A list of common homophones:
Eye, I
Balled, Bald, Bawld
Basal, Basil
Bear, Bare: I feel the need to note that the word "bare" is only ever nakedness. Ever. One does not "bare a load" unless one is stripping it.
Cache, Cash
Capital (a place), Capitol (money)
Cede (to withdraw or give up, as in a point), Seed (a thing you plant)
Die (to cease to exist, life stops here, do not collect 200 dollars), Dye (to stain something with color). Important note here: dying is a sad thing, that bit where your heart stops beating. Dyeing is where you are in the process of staining fabric that lovely vermilion color that took you two months to find.

Augh, there are too many to even try to list. Fear not, fearless reader! As more come to me and offend me with their glaring wrong-ness, I shall again venture forward into the Land of Homophones and post a new and entertaining blog!

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