Off the Press

January 15, 2013

By Greg Farrar

Words aren’t always what they seam to be

Yes, the headline has the wrong word on purpose!

Greg FarrarPress photographer

Greg Farrar
Press photographer

During one of my recent columns, the Twitter and Facebook revolution was under discussion and how it was shrinking our attention spans and thought processes to a maximum of 140 characters at a time.

There’s something else going on in this new way of communication that drives me crazy, not only in the social media universe but in the good old everyday world of newsprint and magazines.

Homonyms! Or in current smartphone texting lingo, autocorrect errors. Nowhere does the absence of good proofreading drive me as crazy than when it comes to them.

When there are a whole lot of people attacking a strategic position, they are a “horde.” When a storm is coming and we stock up on batteries, we are saving up a “hoard.”

A homonym is one word that is same-named as another word. In the old days, children used to memorize them, just as they used to memorize multiplication tables. Can you remember being drilled in second grade about how to use there, their and they’re? I can.

First came calculators. Who divides numbers with pencil and paper anymore? Then, word processors replaced the dumb old typewriter.

Our computers spell check copy like nobody’s business, and you can hardly find a word in print anymore that is just out-and-out misspelled. But while we get lazy and let our smartphones do the spelling, they still aren’t smart enough to figure out which word we meant if they’re both spelled right.

Examples actually making into print that I noticed in the past several months are, “low and behold,” “waist of time,” “egg yoke,” “a long cue of people” and “bus fair.”

Argh! When even media like The Associated Press and The New York Times are missing out on lo, waste, yolk, queue and fare, you know we are raising a whole — not hole — generation of careless writers!

Here is the rest of the list kicking around for the past few months from actual print that drove me mad. Patients, not patience. Peeked, not peaked. Sheer, not shear. Through, not threw. Cite, not site. Passed, not past. Toeing, not towing. Grate, not great. Peddling, not pedaling.

Now let’s go look from the top at what I’ve just written. Our could have been hour. Revolution could have gotten through as revulsion! To could be too or two. Time could be thyme. Way could be weigh — or whey! Not could be knot. Stock could be stalk. Days could be daze. While could be wile. Do could be dew or due. Which could be witch. Right could get past a computer if it was rite, wright or write!

Is there a moral to this story? I guess the lesson is just to keep on your toes! English is sometimes the most difficult language on earth. The good news is we are still smarter than our computers!

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