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Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Tuesday 5/11

Plain Plane

Try saying this to yourself, aloud.  (Yes, it works better out loud.  Use your three-inch voice, if necessary.)

 - The heir was weigh two chili four the week might, sew it staid inn awl knight.

You might be wondering what in the world this means.  (You might also be wondering what an awl is.)  It doesn’t make much sense, right?  Try repeating the phrase to someone nearby.  They may hear it more like this:

 - The air was way too chilly for the weak mite, so it stayed in all night.

English can be a tiresome language sometimes.  There are so many rules.  Worse, there seem like infinitely more exceptions to all the rules.  I took four years of Spanish in college and the more I got into it, the more I realized how difficult it must be to learn English.  Using the example above, despite what you read to someone (the first line), they might hear something completely different (the second line).  If you can recall second grade, you probably learned about these types of words: homophones. 

Homophones are words which sound alike, but are spelled differently and have different meanings.  There are twelve in the example above. 

Most homophone errors are committed in writing.  Things like when to use “compliment” or “complement.”  (I’m still not always confident using that word.)  How about “ensure,” “insure,” or “assure.”  (I know, “assure” isn’t exactly a homophone of the other two, but it goes with them and certainly leads to just as much confusion.)  It can be very frustrating having so many of what sound like the same word.  So why so many?

I wish there were a good reason, but trying to explain it just makes it worse.  You see, most experts agree English has some 600,000 plus words (according to Oxford), 200,000 of which are in common use.  With the exception of German, most major world languages have about half that many words in common use.  (Why exclude German?  Because English is a West Germanic language.  They’re similar.  Even still, Germans use less than 200,000 common words.) 

My point is, with so many words, we’re bound to end up with some that sound alike.  All I can do is wish you the best next time you come up to deciding to use either “adverse” or “averse.”  I can tell you now, spell check won’t always save you.  In fact, it didn’t even offer one suggestion to correct the example at the beginning of this article.  Thanks, spell check!

By: S. Cole Garrett


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