Homonyms on the web

I’m not one of those curmudgeons who think young people can’t write because of texting, or the internet. Digital natives do a whole lot of writing, and many bloggers and commenters (in the better web sites) are fluent and thoughtful communicators.

However! There is a LOT of confusion around homonyms. I assume it’s because spell check programs don’t offer a correction when you write “She was given free reign.” After all, it’s spelled right. It’s just a total misunderstanding of the metaphor.

A little research shows that helpful grammarians have listed more than 300 commonly confused homonyms, so I won’t try to produce an exhaustive list. I’ll just talk about the more common ones that grate on me the worst. It will be therapeutic for me to get them off my chest.

  • free reign for free rein.
    We’re talking about horses, not monarchs. Although, come to think of it, that might be the source of the confusion. After all, almost nobody rides horses any more, but people still know something about kings and queens. Maybe the writers are thinking that these royals freely reign? Hmmm…
  • pour over for pore over.
    There’s just no excuse for this one. Are the writers sprinkling whiskey all over the documents they’re studying?
  • peak for peek
    Are mountains going out of style, so “peak” is no longer required? If we still need it, keep the distinction, please.
  • loose for lose
    Tighten up, people, and find that misplaced dictionary!
  • flare for flair
    If you’re trying to write with panache, it pays to improve your vocabulary. Then you can set the world on fire with your brilliance.
  • affect for effect and vice versa
    I’ve known professional writers who can’t use these correctly. It explains the widespread use of “impact” as both a verb and a noun, which absolves the writer of knowing the difference. I guess I’m basically OK with this, but I admit I judge writers by their ability to use these words. I’m not proud of this, but it’s true.
  • hardy for hearty
    I’m guessing that British writers make this mistake less often, as they tend to pronounce their “t’s” more crisply than we Americans do.
  • weary for wary
    “I’m always really weary of guys who call me beautiful right off the bat.”┬áThe writer is tired of it, but she’s actually trying to say she’s skeptical.

Brought to you by Team Prescriptive. Mission statement: “Working to slow the pace of change in our language. Do we really want to make it as difficult for our children to read our parents’ letters as it is for us to read Shakespeare or Beowulf?”

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