Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Blogger-to-Blogger Grammar Tips: How to Avoid Homonym Hades (illustrated with funny pet photos)

A few prerequisite definitions:

  Hades: (loosely defined...by me) The place where the practically dead (from loss of readership, due to chronic -- and potentially humiliating -- misuse of homonyms) blogs go.

I wish.
(t-shirt image via Mental Floss store)

<> (loosely, from wictionary.org): A word that sounds or is spelled the same as another word, but has a different meaning, technically called a homophone (same sound) or a homograph (same spelling).
(A few examples that I thought of: gross, pile, dog, dew, do)
{Come on, y'all, it's me, here. What kind of thoughts did you expect?}
Note: In the aforementioned examples, the first three words (each) have multiple meanings, but are identically spelled, while the last two only sound the same.

<> (my own definition): A word(s) invented by a smart@ss, pun-loving and/or lazy person who couldn't be bothered to think of something original.*
(Good grief, as if there aren't enough unique letter combinations in the 26-letter English alphabet!)

Oh, and just on the off chance you think this post only applies to the few and far between blogger/grammar dolts (like me): its, it's, their, there, they're, buy, by and bye are homonyms, too. (Note: If you've never, in your life, typed any of those words incorrectly, then you might be a grammar rock star, and could get bored reading the rest of this post. Unless, that is, you like self-deprecating** humor, in which case, read on.)

This is awkward.
But not as awkward as when you accidentally publish crazy words on your blog.

Practically-a-homonym: (my own definition): A word that sounds almost exactly like another word (often only differing by one or two letters), but has a completely different meaning.
Example: **deprecating and defecating
Hint: For the love of all that is dignified and good, friends, don't mix those two words up. Just don't.


So, as the title indicates, I'm sharing this not as an expert grammar scholar, but as a blogger who has typed her share of homonym mistakes. And not because I've been policing other blogs for errors, or because screwing up homonyms is one of my pet peeves (no, if that were true, I'd be perpetually peeved at myself).

What I am doing, however, is sharing some tips I've learned (in my nearly 3 years of blogging) for how to avoid making common (and not so common), potentially humiliating (personal examples to follow) mistakes using the wrong word(s) in your blog posts (or any other public, self-edited writing). In other words: because I don't want you to make my mistakes. I hope they help!


And by watch, I mean: Don't rush to select a suggested word, especially if the word you're using is one that you've never (or rarely) written before! When in doubt - even by the slightest hair - LOOK UP the meaning of the word! It is because I misspelled "Enunciation" with an "A," and as a result, selected "Annunciation" from the list offered by spell check, that I published this (highly embarrassing) post title (in 2011):

The Importance of Annunciation When Including a Dog in Your Holiday Card Photo Shoot

Thankfully, a concerned reader e-mailed me with my mistake only minutes after the post went live. If not for her, the title might still be out there (for horrified readers all over the globe) to this day.

(Also, the irony that I screwed up the post title because I hadn't enunciated "enunciate" is not lost on me.)

Hahahaha! Heeheeeheee! Harharhar!

2. PROOFREAD beyond spell check!

Think spell check is gonna catch the time you type "there" for "they're"? "Who's" for "whose"? "Flee" for "flea"? Of course not! Run spell check and then read through your (entire) work. Then - if you have the time - close it, take a break and then read it again.

3. Study and memorize common homonyms.

Is it second nature for you to type "its" (vs. "it's") for the possessive of "it"? Do you know the difference between "affect" and "effect"? Are you fazed that "phase" and "faze" are frequently confused?

The good news is that there are hundreds of online resources that list (ad nauseum nauseam***) the more common homonyms that typically trip people up in writing. Try Googling "commonly misused homonyms." You'll see what I mean.

*** It might make you nauseated to know that the phrase "ad nauseam" is commonly misspelled "ad nauseum." ;)

As a matter of fact, there is such a word as "throe." It rhymes with "ho," bleeches.


Ever heard the saying "you don't know what you don't know"? Well, let me tell you, there will be times when you just flat out use the wrong word (because you simply have no idea that it's wrong), and neither hades nor high water will be able to stop you. Like the time I published this title (in 2011):

'In the throws of a mid-life crisis, Tigger decided to cover her pesky gray hair'...

In all fairness to me, though, how the heck was I supposed to know that "throes" was even a word, much less correctly use it?!

Well, I'll tell you: By READING (other people's writing)! Lots and lots of it!

Wanna know how I know this?

Because FIVE MONTHS LATER, after that absurd post title had lingered out on the interwebs for thousands of (Pinterest-clicking) people to see (and probably snicker at), I read the same phrase (but with the correct spelling of "throes") somewhere else. And you know what? I laughed. Okay, NO I DIDN'T, I (used "fudge" as an expletive and) fixed it! And then (in humiliation) wrote a post titled Please, Won't You Be My Editor, in which I implored you, my readers, to inform me whenever I do something so completely NOT-brilliant, again!

Dang it, what was the point of that tirade?!

Oh yes, READING!

It's simply the only way to build one's vocabulary (short of studying the dictionary, or a dictionary-like application) to include more of the less commonly written homonyms, like "throes," for example.

So, who wants to take down some homonyms today?! ;-)

Do you have any other tips to share?

* Let it be known (and I think Shakespeare himself would agree) that there might be at least three positive arguments for the existence of homonyms:

1. puns 2. euphemisms 3. double entendre

With that said, proceed at your own risk! ;)

image via cheezburger.com memebase

P.S. Should you find an homonymic error in this post, please spell "it" in the comments. Thanks! 


  1. Oh, I bet nobody even noticed your "throws" v. "throes" mix-up. You're right... who even knew that was a word? (Except maybe my typo-spotting, eagle-eyed sister! She emails me right away if I have a booboo in a blog post - so I read them 3 times first!)

    I tend to avoid the whole effect/affect thing by just finding a different way to make my point. :) I figure it helps me stretch my vocabulary... just in a different way.

    I also try to avoid the phrase "wreak havoc" - not because I don't know to use "wreak," but like with throes- who ever even heard of that word, outside of the phrase reek, I mean wreak!, havoc??

  2. Haha! As a total nerd and a bit of a grammar stickler I love this - good advice, and I also know how it feels to catch an error after hitting 'publish' and feeling nothing but shame!

    The homophones discussion always makes me think of this (good luck getting the song out of your head after):


  3. Momma can't spell nothin since blogging cause she spells like us
    Benny & Lily

  4. We find these posts really helpful and interesting. More please and thank you we did sign up to Spice Up Your Blog. Spelling is a nightmare as no matter how many times I ask for English English it always defaults back to American English. Really annoying for me. Have a wonderful Wednesday.
    Best wishes Molly

  5. Amen sista! I think we've all been guilty of using incorrect grammar a time or two (or to or too). Thank goodness for those readers who catch our mistakes. :)

    Love your sense of humor!

  6. It always amazes me, after reading my soon-to-be-posted item 20 times, I publish it, read it one more time and find an error! How can that be!?

    And don't even get me started on my comments' grammar! I never see those errors until too late!

  7. Oh my lord this is sew funny...and yes, sew true...Thank you four a grate reeding experience

  8. Ha ha ha!

    I had a funny homophone spell check just a few minutes ago. I think the sentence about my foster pup said she wanted to soar like the Flying Nun. Spell check wondered if she was sore like the Flying Nun. :)

  9. That picture cracked me up! That is a great colour! This Homonym brought me back to my school days, I completely forgot what it meant - no surprise there- but with the help of you cardi's I now know again!!! :)

  10. Bwaaaa ha ha ha! Oh, how did I miss this before? Thank you for addressing one of my largest pet peeves in the funniest way possible! I bow to you!


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