I subscribe to several email newsletters. A couple of them are valuable for more than the information they convey.
Their authors have a delightfully hard time choosing the right word from a pair or more of homonyms.
One of these authors admitted to being stressed by something and apparently figured most of his readership wouldn’t be especially sympathetic. So he added, “queue the violin music.”
“Queue” is a much more common word in British English than American English. It means a line of people waiting, say, to buy a concert ticket. As a classical music lover, it saddens me that the queue for violin music is always so much shorter than for rock music.
But somehow I don’t think that’s what the writer meant.
He facetiously suggested that his confession of stress was a signal for violin music to start. The word he wanted was “cue.” It has several meanings. One of them is a signal to an actor, sound engineer, etc. that it’s time to enter, speak a particular line, or perform some technical effect.
This same young man, in another message, explained what he did to solve a particular kind of problem and why. “I suggest you follow suite.”
Since I have already mentioned violin music, I might as well begin by saying a suite is a set of dances composed for listening instead of dancing. The Nutcracker, for example, is a ballet. While the orchestra plays in the pit, the audience watches dancers on stage. Some of those dances make up the Nutcracker Suite, which people hear at a concert without dancing.
Various other usages of “suite” all refer to a collection of things intended to be used together. An office suite is a collection of rooms used by a particular company. A hotel suite is more than a single room intended for use by one guest or group of guests. A suite of furniture is intended to be used in the same room.
Suit can also mean a set of clothing made of the same color and pattern of fabric meant to be worn together.
Many card games use suits of cards. I don’t know why it’s not suites of cards. “Suit,” too, frequently refers to a set of things. It’s also what you might intend to file or avoid when you hire a lawyer or what a young man pursues when he’s courting. But let’s stay with the set.
All the cards with diamonds on them in a standard card deck make up a suit. So do all the green cards in Uno.
The rule in many games is that if one player starts a round in a particular suit, all the other players must play the same suit, or follow suit. We often use “follow suit” to mean doing other things the same as someone has done before. For whatever reason, the very similar word with “e” at the end is the wrong word.
Another email writer warned against drifting through a project hoping to be doing it right. “The perfect anecdote. . .is to commit your formula to memory.”
An anecdote is a brief story, often funny but always interesting. What’s interesting or funny about committing a formula to memory? And what does that have to do with working on a project in a way that all but guarantees failure.
Failure is like a poison. The way to counteract a poison is an antidote. Anti- means against. The “dote” part comes from Greek for “give.” An antidote, then, is a remedy you give against a poison.
Language teachers and editors have been looking for an antidote to misused language for generations. I’m kind of glad they haven’t found one. When someone makes the wrong choice between a “pear” of words, it can be really funny.
Does that make it an anecdote?
P.S. I now have clear evidence that I’m not the only writer who has fun with homonyms. Someone commented on an earlier article on misused pears and pointed out that I had committed a booboo myself. I aimed at a letter on the keyboard, but didn’t hit it hard enough that it registered. I decided to let it stand.
But I’m certainly not going to point it out to you. If you want to see it, search for it!Google+