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Ellen Cline, writer
Creative communication that markets, informs, and entertains

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Word woes—homonym horrors

Author: ; Published: Jan 13, 2010; Category: Editing and Proofing; Tags: , , ; One Comment

Mr. Smiley is appalled at homonym errors

Reading and writing a lot can turn you into a tough audience, a real critic. I notice things and am appalled. Most people probably didn’t even see them.

When I have time and am in the mood, I write emails to book publishers, small business owners and large company webmasters pointing out typos and other errors I’ve come across. Usually they’re appreciative.

A few years back I started a file called “Word Woes” and put in errors that seemed to be appearing before me almost daily. Many of these were what I would call homonym horrors—the use of a word that sounds the same as the one intended, but with a different meaning. Here are a few examples:

  • From a newspaper story–The line can be difficult to tow. And the way a businessperson chooses to handle it can be as different as each denomination or religion itself.
    (How heavy is that line they’re towing? Of course the expression they mean is toe the line.)
  • An email from a website payment service–We are currently aware of the website issue and are working to correct it. Thank you for your patients.
    (I’m not a medical professional and have no patients to give them, so I imagine they mean patience.)
  • From a novel–“Who’re you talking about?” asked Georgia absentmindedly as she poured over colored photos in a magazine, VIP Weekly, her tongue sticking out the side of her mouth.
    (Well I don’t think she poured liquid over the photos but instead pored over them or studied them carefully.)
  • From another novel–Now, Will didn’t even look like the same man. He seemed rung out, his complexion sallow, and he’d lost a good deal of weight.
    (No bells in sight. I think they mean wrung out, but maybe since nobody wrings out clothes anymore the meaning, and along with it, the proper spelling, are becoming lost.)

Of course I find errors in things clients ask me to edit. But these people are asking for help before they publish something, so I’m not including any of those bloopers here.

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One Response to “Word woes—homonym horrors”


  1. L. C. Sterling
    May 30, 2010
    9:45 am

    I can’t tell you how often I see “effect” confused with “affect,” which makes me apoplectic. The verbal gaffe of “there’s” when only “there are” will do has made it into print now … woe is us.

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