Ellen Cline, writer
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Word woes–homonym horrors, the sequel

Author: ; Published: Mar 8, 2010; Category: Editing and Proofing; Tags: , , , ; No Comments

Mr. Smiley is appalled at homonym errors

Even the greatest spellchecker is not going to save you from using a word that might seem correct, but just isn’t quite “write.” 

The odds of falling into this trap have increased as word processing programs try to “help” you by inserting  the word they think you want and need.  It’s easy to get lulled into a false feeling of security as the computer assures you that everything has been checked for spelling.  So how can you end up with the wrong word?

Just remember, the machine may help you find some errors, but it’s more than happy to add more. If you use a word that’s spelled correctly, that doesn’t mean it’s the word you want. It could be a homonym, just waiting to inflict horror, right when you least expect it.

Yes, it’s time for another episode of homonym horrors.


  • From a cartoon strip, where a character is reminiscing about her experiences in WWII—I kept seeing Lieutenant Kiesl because the camp was sort of an entrance point, a weigh station for arriving P.O.W.s who were interrogated then sent on to other camps.  Meanwhile…”
    (I think they mean way station.  I doubt if the purpose of the place was to see how much the P.O.W.s weighed)
  • From a high tech magazine article—Subhead:  A device can power indefinitely to wireless censors
     (I doubt they meant censor here, unless this is supposed to be top secret technology. But then they wouldn’t be writing about it in this magazine, would they? Besides the homonym problem, the subhead is badly written. Maybe it should say: Device can provide power indefinitely to wireless sensors.)
  • From a healthcare organization member newsletter—Subhead: A complementary benefit.
    (This is a common mistake. Since this section of the article is about a service that members don’t have to pay any additional fees for, a.k.a. free, they should have used complimentary. There is something called complementary medicine, however, it’s generally not free. 
  • From a dentist’s direct mail piece–We work to educate all our patients so that they can take an active roll in their treatment…
    (Bread rolls are inanimate objects, and I doubt they’re talking about a roll in the hay, so we’ll assume they mean an active role.)
  • From an email—I am in the throws of an RFP deadline and up to my eyeballs in other deadlines.
    (We’re not struggling to throw a ball here. The desired word was throes.)


We all misuse homonyms at one time or another. Sometimes it’s due to careless typing. Other times it’s caused by misunderstandings about the difference in meaning between words that sound the same but are spelled differently.