Thursday, August 17, 2017

Wild Wacky Words: Part Won.


As you may know, I edit stuff good. I edit it gooder than most. Goodest, even.

One of the things you need to watch for in this "biz" are commonly confounded words, words that are usually very close in spelling or pronunciation or both but with totally different meanings. I thought, just for fun, that today and tomorrow I might share some of my favorites. And if it's not educational to you, well, at least it might be a good reminder for me.

🔖Then / Than

We all know this one, but sometimes we err. Then is an adverb (most of the time) used to indicate a latter time in a sequence: So he flew a kite, then he took a long walk off a short pier. Than, on the other hand, is a conjunction (most of the time) used for comparative purposes: I did not take the suggestion to go fly a kite; therefore I am less foolish than he is. I think we remember this from grammar school; when I've spotted it it's usually just a typo.

🔖Stationery / Stationary

I wrote about this earlier in the year, but it bears repeating. Stationery is the stuff you write on; stationary is a state of non-motion, like the $1,000 exercise bike on which you hang clothes.

🔖Lightning / Lightening

I'm surprised this one comes up as much as it does, but I guess it's because the -ing in the noun lightning makes it look like a verb. Lightning is the stuff that will shoot out of the sky and electrocute you; lightening is what happens in a room when you turn on a light. The verb is lighten, so lightening just makes sense.

🔖Wail / Whale

Here's a tricky one because it doesn't really make sense. I'm not addressing the large aquatic mammal here (🐳) but rather the verb whale. Wail we know is a cry or to cry loudly, but it is not to beat on something. If you're Rocky, and you want to go work out on the heavy bag, you would go into the meat locker and whale on a side of beef for a while. Why does whale mean to beat up? Webster's does not know. It may just refer to the size and power of the whale, or perhaps is tied in with the other verb use of whale, as in to hunt whales, a career that took a lot of guts and muscle in the old days.

🔖Raise / Raze

This actually doesn't come up that often, because few people use the word raze. The odd thing is that these homophones are essentially opposites, raise meaning to lift up or build, raze meaning to completely destroy ("razed to the ground" being a common construction ... in construction). Another odd thing is the expression "raising Cain," which uses the sense of conjuring for raise -- of course, to bring up that bedeviled spirit could result in a lot of destruction. And I guess to raze Cain would put the spirit back down. "Razing Cain" could be a good title for a movie, come to think of it. We raised Cain and razed the town so we had to raze Cain and raise the town up again.

🔖Illicit / Elicit

Illicit is an adjective describing something naughty or illegal. (Ill behavior, illegal...illicit!) The verb elicit is to prompt or draw a response. Remember the E in elicit as in evoke. My illicit behavior elicited an unpleasant reaction from the judge.

🔖Jive / Jibe / Gibe

I'm just tired of reading about things jiving with each other. Next thing you know they'll be scatting. Things that are operating in sync -- great minds, roaring engines, PB and J -- jibe, they do not jive. As a verb, jive means to talk in a foolish or lying way, or to play or dance to jive music. Jibe is to be in accord. A jibe can also be a cutting remark, but that's also spelled as gibe. So you can jive someone with jibes but then you won't jibe. 

Bonus tip: No h in sync. I've been seeing a lot of synchs lately -- everything but the kitchen synch.

Tune in tomorrow for more sets of commonly confused words. I'm sure the suspense will be killing you until then (not until than).
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