We’re all fired up about homophones (and you should be, too)

Posted by Sarah Mitchell on 4th December , 2019 in The Write Fit
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This is an excerpt from the eighth edition of The Write Fit, a fortnightly newsletter about writing, editing and proofreading, content marketing and good editorial practices for business, from Sarah Mitchell and Dan Hatch at Typeset.

Let’s play a quick game of spot the homophone

Thanks to Content Marketing World, which is hosted annually in Cleveland, Ohio, I’ve been to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame more times than my bass-playing son thinks is fair.

They have quite a haul of rock memorabilia on show. All the big stars have made it into the Hall of Fame ­– from Fats Domino to Madonna. Induction is a great honour. Rock heavyweights, like Tom Waits and Gladys Knight, have had their night to shine. Even Prince has his prints on the wall.

You know who isn’t in there?

Go on. Hit me with your best shot.

That’s right, Pat Benatar.

It’s 40 years this year since Benatar burst onto the music scene and I’ve just seen that she’s finally up for induction. Is it this feted rock star’s fate to be named alongside the greats? Or will the voting public think her music grates (like Vulture Magazine did) and vote for Whitney Houston instead?

Did you spot the homophones?

There were seven examples in the passage above. Some of them were clawing and desperate, so I’m sure you did.

Homophones are words that sound the same but have different meanings.

The big offenders are words like your vs you’re, its vs it’s, and there, they’re and their. But let’s not waste time on those. What I’m most worried about is when companies put the effort into getting it right, but it turns out wrong. It’s remarkably common.

Here are 7 of the biggest homophone offenders… according to me.

Compliment vs complement

I swear this has to be the biggest offender.

  • Compliment – praise or free of charge
  • Complement – either of two parts or something needed to make a whole

You offer a complimentary ticket to a Pat Benatar concert or compliment someone on their 80’s poodle perm.
Butter is the perfect complement to toast. While butter makes everything better, it does not compliment the toast.

Tenet vs tenant

Not technically homophones but I see these mixed up often enough to include them in the list.

  • Tenet – a strongly held belief
  • Tenant – someone who pays rent for your property

Your tenant pays their rent on time.
A tenet of faith can help you overcome a personal crisis (we are strong; no one can tell us we‘re wrong).

Metal vs medal vs meddle vs mettle

There are so many ways to get yourself in trouble.

  • metal – an elementary substance found on the periodic table
  • medal – a prize or award
  • meddle – to interfere
  • mettle – quality of character

Silver and gold are examples of precious metals.
You won a silver medal at the tourism awards (it’s not quite four Grammys, but well done!)
You might have won a gold medal except someone meddled with the award submission.
You have the mettle to hold your head up in the face of adversity like while sporting one of those poodle perms.

Premiere vs premier

I sometimes think people are trying to be fancy when they use the wrong version of premiere.

  • Premiere – opening night or the first public performance
  • Premier – first or leading, also the head of state

The Simpson’s premiere was on 17 December 1989.
The Venice Simplon-Orient-Express is the premier luxury train in Europe.

Capitol vs capital

Easy enough to get right but I see it wrong far too often.

  • Capitol – building, usually a government building
  • Capital – city or town for official seat of government, wealth, money, punishment

I travelled to the capitol to meet my government representative about Pat Benatar’s Hall of Fame nomination.
I live in the capital city of Perth, a place benefiting from vast amounts of mining capital but where you can still get a mullet haircut (the 80s will never die!)

Principle vs principal

  • Principle – a fundamental truth, a law
  • Principal – first, money, the head of an organisation

If you stand on principle, you better be able to defend your reasons when acting like a jerk (especially if you’re wearing a poodle-permed mullet!)
The principal of the university paid the interest on the mortgage but didn’t pay down the principal loan.

Bear vs bare

This one challenges me every time, but I have my trusty proofreader to make sure I get it right.

  • Bear – carry, support the weight of, the big furry animal native to my home-state of Michigan. Note to all Americans: a koala is not a bear and the Australians can’t bear it when you refer to them that way.
  • Bare – naked, unconcealed, minimal

If you can’t bear the heat, get out of the kitchen.
I could barely understand what you were trying to say because I was playing Love is a Battlefield at full blast on my car stereo.

Fire away!

I’m a long-time fan of Ms. Benatar, but I do understand some of the criticism she gets. (Check out this bad lip-syncing job. No editor could rescue that.) But at least Benatar had big shoulder pads and a smoking guitar solo to fall back on. Writers don’t have that luxury.

Homophones are the kinds of embarrassing mistakes that slip through when we rely solely on online tools. It’s why you need a real person to review your most important copy.

But, back to the really important part: getting Pat Benatar into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Go and cast your vote here! You can help decide whether she sits on the throne or is thrown out. (Go ahead and vote for Whitney Houston, too. You get five votes so it won’t be in vein*.)

Sarah Mitchell
4 December 2019

*vain. Sneaky lil homophone.

 

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