I have had fun over the years collecting mistakes with homonyms. That is, when people choose the wrong word when a pair of words sound similar. It can be even more fun when someone reaches for a cliché and butchers it. Welcome to the latest in my occasional series highlighting misused pears pairs of words.
Gardeners use a hoe to break up soil, often to plant a row of some kind of vegetable. Anyone dealing with clay soil knows it can be backbreaking work. So a “tough row to hoe” means a difficult task. But hoeing the toughest row seems more reasonable than trying to hoe an entire road! Why not use heavy equipment instead? Yet so many people write “tough road to hoe.”
Row and road aren’t strictly homonyms, but they sound enough alike to confuse the careless.
Mistakes with true homonyms
From instructions for using a surgical device: “With free hand that is not holding the device, gently hold the skin taught.” I’m not sure what the device is supposed to teach skin. “Taught” is a more common word than the intended “taut,” but it requires a couple of extra letters. Someone had to go to extra effort to produce that mistake!
“Beginning drivers are often heavy footed and ride the break.” Don’t we brake the car more often than we break things? But I guess we don’t write about it as much. This mistake occurred four times in the same short paragraph.
Someone on Facebook identified something as “a waist product from the oil industry.” It must have something to do with all the fat cats in the oil industry. I certainly don’t want to waste such a good example of a misused pear.
Someone else emailed me about an ongoing problem to say that one step was out of the way: “this hurtle has been cleared.” Quickly hurtling past the hurdle.
I wrote an article about choosing the right thermostat for one of my other projects. Something I read for background information assures that “manual thermostats are being fazed out.” Is anyone else disturbed or disconcerted (fazed) by not seeing “phased” here?
Mistakes with near homonyms
COVID-19 has messed up everything else, so it might as well mess up word choices when people write letters to the editor. As with “a tough road to hoe,” the mistakes don’t have to involve real homonyms to provide some fun.
One writer took issue with our governor’s approach to reopening the economy: “When were we do for another decree from His Highness about going into phase 3?” Is that giving the governor his due?
I suppose the person who wrote, “it scares me that people don’t want to where face masks” views the governor more favorably. But what scares me is not so much whether people wear masks as where too many masks wind up: all over sidewalks and parking lots.
Aren’t you glad history provides such a nice respite from current crises? An article about the Council of Nicea noted that “Many of the locals relayed behind Arius.” Well, a relay is one kind of race. A long-distance road race is called a rally. But I don’t suppose Arius had much to do with either one. Let me relay the message that his supporters rallied.
If you have a WordPress blog, you know how hard it can be to find good advice when you run into trouble. Part of the problem is how long obsolete advice stays on the web. I found this gem in a very old forum post: “Yes indeed, what about the new editor in 3.9? [Word Press is on version 5.5 as I write.] Maybe makes the editor problem a mute point.” “Mute point” doesn’t mean anything, but I guess it’s not any less clear than the correct “moot point.” That phrase can mean either something up for debate or something irrelevant.
Saving the best for last
But here’s my favorite entry in this post. It comes from an organization that trains writers: “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.”
With that, it’s time to put on overalls so I can overhaul something that’s not working properly out in the yard.