Air on the side of caution: more misused pears

fun with homonyms

Mixmatched pear of shoes?

That’s advice I saw somewhere about how not to fall for scams:

“If you suspect the email could be legitimate, air on the side of caution anyway.”

It’s an error of course, not an airor. The expression is err on the side of caution.

Air and err are two homonyms that someone mixed up. Something I like to call misused pears. (Although actually the preferred pronunciation of “err” according to the American Heritage Dictionary is ur rather than air.)

Lots of people err when typing, but not on the side of caution. I wouldn’t advocate being so cautious as to look up every word in a dictionary, but at least learn what the right word is and then proofread!

But that mistake somehow reminds me of a sign I saw posted in a town where I used to live: “Do not air out your dog here.” I wish I had taken a picture of it. That sign isn’t a misused pear, just a very strange euphemism. Whoever posted it certainly didn’t care how much air came out of a dog!

I look for opportunities to post on other peoples’ blogs. Often bloggers will have a page that defines what they want from guest posts. One specifically asks for how-two videos! I’m at a loss to know how two respond. How too respond? Ah! How to respond.

Bloggers and others who operate on the web also need traffic, and there are a number of ways to increase it. “Experts” in search engine optimization constantly try to make Google send more traffic somewhere, and Google keeps changing procedures to cut down on the cheating.

What does that have to do with misused pears? Some enterprising person with a new SEO scheme wrote, “How would you convince those who rely on the big G’s SERPs[search engine results pages] for traffic not to tow the line?”

A cable used to tow, say, a car is called a towline. That’s not the same kind of line as the expression should be written. Apparently some people think it is, as if Google or someone puts out some kind of line that others have to pull (tow) along.

Actually, the correct idiom is “toe the line.” At the start of a footrace, runners must stay behind a line. “On your mark” means to put your toe right on, but not over the line. So “toe the line” means to follow the rules or meet a standard.

Some advice on Facebook ads mentions a number of possible goals for the ad, including “wet the appetite.” A successful ad doesn’t moisten, or worse yet, dampen anyone’s appetite! It is supposed to sharpen or intensify it, or whet the appetite.

I do read other things besides advice for operating an online business. I signed up to attend an event on meetup.com, and someone posted, “For those who don’t know where Ellen lives, please put it on the sight.”

That reminds me: someone objected one of my posts and challenged me to “site references.” So I sited what I cited in my reply, which is in plain sight.

A Christian page included this warning: When we refuse to line up with the will of the Father, we open the door to the enemy to have full and free rain in our lives.

It could have said, “free reign in our lives” and still have been wrong. But at least that mistake makes more sense. “Reign” is the exercise of sovereign power, so giving someone free reign would mean submitting to his power.

But the correct phrase is “free rein,” a reference to horseback riding. When the rider holds the rein loosely, the horse has freedom to go its own way. Free rein, therefore, is a metaphor for allowing someone freedom to act with little or no restraint.

I also read a very interesting article about early English history. Formerly what is now England was divided among several kingdoms, including Wessex. The article said “Gradually Wessex became more powerful as a result of their ability to repeal the Danish invasion.”

“Repeal” is what a legislature does with a law it chooses to revoke or nullify. What Wessex did more successfully than its neighbors was defeat the invaders and make them go back home unsuccessfully—repel the invasion.

Homonyms trap even those who know the language most thoroughly. I hate to admit the howlers that I would have published if I didn’t read my posts allowed aloud before I send them out into the world.

Do you have fun with homonyms? Any favorite misused pears? Share them in the comments.

Photo credit: Some rights reserved by gadl.


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