My occasional series Misused pears highlights other writers’ mistakes with homonyms. I hope you think they’re fun.
A pastor who blogs griped that “It’s standard fair for megachurch pastors to be inaccessible.”
He meant “fare.” It can mean either the price of riding on a bus or taxi or food and drink. In either case, the pastor reached for a metaphor and grabbed the wrong word.
A bus line might waive its standard fare on New Year’s Eve to persuade drunks not to drive home from parties. A restaurant might offer something fancier than its standard fare for Valentine’s day.
A fair can mean anything from a county fair to a world’s fair. Deep fried Oreos are standard fare at at least one state fair, but what would a standard fair be? That same post gave me bonus fun with homonyms.
One of the comments contained the sentence, “Who’s curiosity would not be peaked discovering that place?”
The writer certainly didn’t mean “who is curiosity.” And probably didn’t mean either “sickly, emaciated, or pale” curiosity or curiosity at its highest point.
Discovering a place may arouse someone’s curiosity, in which case it’s piqued.
Poor / pour
South Australia suffered a power blackout last year, and some people blamed it on the state’s heavy reliance on wind power.
A letter to a newspaper claimed, “They’ve been warned that blindly continuing to poor so much money into this form of energy supply was fraught with danger.”
Spend too much money on anything and you may become poor, but “poor” isn’t a verb. By the way, does anyone deliberately pour money into some project? Or do only critics who consider it a waste of money use that phrase?
Antidote / anecdote
These two words don’t have the same pronunciation, so technically they’re not homonyms. But people frequently choose the wrong one.
I’m on a number of email lists, and one author offered “the perfect anecdote” to a particular bad habit. But it wasn’t a story (which is what anecdote means), only a phrase.
Someone daydreaming about appearing on Jeopardy wrote, “I imagined myself . . . being a bit nervous about which quirky antidote about myself to share.” Did he think he was poison?
Tact / tack
Advice to freelancers: “working with the same clients is always a good tact.”
If you don’t have good tact, chances are the same client won’t want to work with you again.
But that’s not what the writer meant. It’s always a good tack.
Working with the same client is always a good tiny nail? That doesn’t look right!
I’m no sailor, but I can use a dictionary. “Tack” is a nautical term that means, among other things, a ship’s position relative to the trim of its sails.
Changing wind conditions can require changing tack. A good tack enables the ship—or metaphorically anything else––to go safely in the desired direction.
Site / cite / sight
One of the most common mistakes with homonyms comes in the form of more advice for bloggers: “If you write a fact-supported post, site the sources your facts came from.”
Someone siting a building decides where to put it. I usually site my sources in two ways. I might link to them directly from a word or phrase in my post, or I might list them at the end of a post. Sort of like a bibliography.
Oh, that’s not what the advice means?
Wherever it is I site my sources, I cite where I got my facts. I’ve never seen advice to sight my sources, though. Even though I do try to site the sources I cite in plain sight.
Do I have a site for sore eyes?
Signs of the times
Years ago I saw a hand-scrawled sign in a grocery store offering a great price on eggs “while supply last’s.” It’s one of a number of times I wish I’d had a camera with me.
Someone did have a camera for a couple of signs that provide fun with homonyms. A church encouraged visitors to attend a “Swiss stake dinner.” That one’s not too tough to pass up!
I understand a Transylvanian stake can dispatch a vampire. I’m not sure what a Swiss stake is good for. Just thinking about it is making me hungry for Swiss steak, though.
And here’s apparently some kind of historical marker: “Entrance. No truck, trailer, bus, or vehicles over 30 feet passed this point.” I’m sure it’s a good thing they didn’t. And none of them had better go past it in the future, either. So there.