Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Humbling Homonyms Part 1

Wilma Acree

As an avid reader, I sometimes chuckle and often cringe at errors I see in print. Just this morning, I cringed when I read this headline: 22 Dear Killed in North Hills Hunt. Yes, I am sure those deer were dear to others in their herd, but really!

If you are confused about dear/deer, make up some nonsensical rules to retain the meanings. For example, you might want to lean your ear against someone dear, but you would not do so to a wild animal (deer).

Other misuses I’ve encountered lately are shoo/shoe and waste/waist.

To shoo means to drive away. A shoe is something that covers your foot. Imagine my mental images when a writer wrote about “shoeing a fly.” An image of a fly wearing four tiny red shoes flitted across my mental screen. If only I could draw that . . . Alas, my artistic skills are nil.

If waste/waist gives you trouble, associate waste with the proverb: Haste makes waste. Or use the sentence: If I eat the food my children waste, my waist will increase. Imagine a thin person scraping plates over a waste can versus a person of increasing girth eating food from several plates.

Spell checkers or even grammar checkers will not catch homonym errors. You must rely upon your own brain, a language expert, or a trained editor. Better still, all three! None of us are infallible, but publishing a novel or even an article with homophone errors decreases your credibility and makes your reader wonder about your reliability.


  1. As a journalism major I have a habit of reading most everything with the intent of looking for errors--a terrible habit in some respects, but a priority in my own writing!

  2. Thanks for your comment, Diane. I'm better at finding mistakes in other people's writing than in my own--unless it's something I haven't reviewed in a long time. I know what I meant, so my brain sees that instead of what is on paper.