No ball playing aloud: more misused pears

fun with homonyms

Mismatched pear of shoes?

A group of boys loved to play ball on a vacant lot. The owner didn’t like it, so he put up a sign.

The next time he went past his lot, he was appalled to see the boy all over his property and yelled at them, “Can’t you read the sign?”

One of the boys answered, “Yes sir. We’re playing as quietly as we can.” The sign said, “No ball playing aloud.”

Did he have trouble spelling? Or did he just not know what homonym to use? “Aloud” (adverb) means with the voice, and louder than a whisper. He meant “allowed” (verb, past participle of allow), or permitted.

Here’s some more fun with homonyms:

1. The only alternative to marketing, according to one authority, is “Do nothing and prey that whatever happens it brings more good than bad.”

“Prey” (noun) means a victim, especially a creature hunted for food. Back up one vowel! Its homonym “pray” (verb) means to speak to God or some other deity. By extension, it can also mean to make any fervent request, possibly to the extent of begging or pleading.

2. As long as we’re in a vaguely religious mood, someone referred to a non-prophet organization.

I personally wouldn’t want to be part of a church that meets that description. A prophet, properly speaking, is someone who hears from God and speaks the word. In a looser sense, a prophet is considered someone who can predict the future.

On the other hand, a non-profit organization is one that does not exist for the sake of making money for stockholders. A profit is some kind of advantageous return, usually in the sense of a return on investment after all expenses have been paid.

3. “Unleashing your creativity and you will put the petal to the metal when it comes to accelerating your online success.”

I don’t think that would work very well. A “petal,” after all, is part of a flower. The cliche this fellow tried to write refers to flooring the accelerator on a car. (I get a lot of good advice from his blog. I’m withholding his name to protect the guilty.) It takes more than a petal. The accelerator is a “pedal,” something operated with the foot. At least he didn’t write “peddle,” a rather sneering way of saying “sell.”

This blogger probably just picked words with similar spelling. He could have mistakenly used two other homonyms: pedal to the “medal,” a piece of metal with some kind of design or inscription and used as an award. Further afield, he could have forced two verbs into duty as nouns by writing “peddle to the meddle,” meddle meaning to interfere.

At least he couldn’t have written “pettle to the mettle.” There is no such word as pettle. Mettle, on the other hand, means courage or spirit. I suppose that a display of mettle might accelerate success, too! There are certainly a lot of combinations of homonyms to get that sentence wrong!

4. Lest anyone think that all of these wrong words are perpetrated only by the spelling challenged, I heard a howler on NPR. The reporter said that the Egyptian government arrested some Americans, accusing them of fermenting unrest.

Maybe, being good Moslems, who disapprove of strong drink, couldn’t stand the thought of those Americans turning all of that Egyptian unrest into alcohol.

It’s not quite as funny as I thought. My dictionary gives “to make turbulent, agitate, excite” as one definition of ferment. I suspect, however, that that definition acknowledges a very old confusion with the word “foment,” which means to incite or encourage.

I’d ask if anyone has any usage data to back up the reporter, but I found another warning that gives me pause:

5. “Anybody can take statistics and pole numbers and find ways
to use them to support their own campaign.”

A pole is a long, relatively thin, and usually rounded piece of wood or other material, as in telephone pole. There aren’t many numbers there. If it weren’t for the “usually rounded” part of the definition, I would have thought that speed limit signs could be mounted on a pole, but I don’t understand just how those numbers would be of any use in a campaign.

Poll numbers are a different matter. The noun “poll” has several senses. The one that best fits the sentence is a selected sample of people giving answers to a particular question, such as whom they intend to vote for. Related meanings include the casting of votes in an election and the number of votes cast.

Hmm. I wonder how far we’d get with a sign that said, “No polling/campaigning/advertising aloud?” The Supreme Court would never back enforcement of “allowed,” so only its homonym could give us any peace and quiet at certain times. I’d approve.

Photo credit: Some rights reserved by gadl.

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