The English language has plenty of opportunities for careless writers to make mistakes with
homonyms. Lovers of language have a lot of fun spotting them.
I have lots of fun with homonyms provided they’re someone else’s mistakes. If I see one of my own, I destroy the evidence. Hopefully, before someone else points it out!
It’s the holiday season, which a lot of people find stressful. So one of the helpful posts I found online counseled people to pace themselves and not try to do too much. Good advice, but what the author actually wrote was, “Don’t overdue it” instead of “don’t overdo it.” I suppose a lot of us are overdue for taking it easy.
Misused pears in the news
I wish someone would remind our public figures not to overdo heated rhetoric over impeachment, but at least one incident indirectly gave me some linguistic pleasure. A congresswoman decided to make a pun on Barron Trump’s name. Maybe that’s why I noticed what I found an online photo album. It had the subtitle “A once great track in Charlotte is overgrown and left barron.”
Whenever “barron” is not someone’s name, it’s a mistake. “Baron” (not “barron”) refers to a member of the nobility in a kingdom. Unproductive land is “barren.”
That’s close enough to something else I saw in a news story. A business owner objected to being made to “bare the cost” of what seemed like a law enforcement problem. Imagine the outrage of being forced to strip a cost naked! What an embarrassment for the cost! Except he meant bear the cost.
Another newspaper article described the shift in emphasis from erecting new historical markers in North Carolina to replacing or repairing those that had been stolen or damaged. It noted, “While the program pumps the breaks, it is also enlisting the help of history-loving volunteers.” That’s brakes, of course. Otherwise, pumping a broken place will do even more damage.
A letter to the editor criticized a columnist for “damning Martin Luther King with feint praise.” The writer surely meant dim or barely perceptible (faint) praise, not misleading or phony praise.
Open for discussion? Irrelevant? Or silent?
Newspapers provide great grist for this series. So does the internet. Looking for advice about a problem with WordPress, I found an ancient forum thread where someone wrote, “Yes indeed, what about the new editor in 3.9? Maybe makes the editor problem a mute point.”
That’s such a common error I’m surprised I haven’t used it before. It’s not exactly a mistake with homonyms, because “mute” and “moot” aren’t pronounced the same. But the writer should have written “moot point.” In law schools, students practice preparing for non-existent cases in moot court.
Oddly enough, a moot point can mean either an issue open for discussion or one that is irrelevant. Maybe in the latter sense, it’s insignificant or it has already been decided and is therefore not worth discussing.
So what’s a mute point? Maybe it’s a point someone makes, but no one else notices it. Perhaps because it’s on a conference call and everyone has already gotten bored and muted their phones.
Other misused pears on the internet
I have just finished research for a post on another blog. One article says that manual thermostats are being fazed out. Can you imagine a thermostat being disconcerted or distracted? I’m sure obsolescence, being phased out, doesn’t faze it.
The author of one email—from a writers’ association no less, wrote, “So, with that in mind, I winnowed down this month’s content topic – your digital life as a writer – to not be a round-up of ideas leading you toward a total system overall.” There’s a split infinitive there, but it’s a dubious rule that forbids it.
Here’s the problem: the last word in that sentence, a direct object, must be a noun. Overall is not a noun—unless it’s an article of clothing in the plural. It wouldn’t have taken a total system overhaul for a proofreader to notice!
Someone else emailed me about a problem with one step completed, saying, “And now with that hurtle out of the way . . .” I’m sure he knows he meant “hurdle,” but sometimes our brain and our fingers don’t communicate well. As I write this, time for my Christmas travel is hurtling toward me, and scheduling this post is one hurdle to get out of the way.