Sometimes, I like to just sit and think about how there are so many words that people use incorrectly. This, of course, reflects on how, in English, we have words that sound similar (or the same) but have different meanings. In fact, we have some words that are spelled the same, but sound different for different words. (Homonyms and Heteronyms, respectively)

This is something that trips up a good many writers, sometimes for their entire careers. We all have words we hate. Words with which we simply do not get along. I simply cannot learn to live with lay/lie. We have irreconcilable differences.

There are some common ones that used to make my teeth itch, but which now just make me shake my head, grinning sardonically, and wishing things could be different. I know you don’t want a lesson. Nobody wants a lesson. Well. Actually, *I* don’t mind lessons…

Pore/pour: “Pore” has a number of meanings. It can be those little holes in your skin that grut and oil get in to and make spots, but it can also mean being absorbed in something, like when you study. (Therefore, “pore” is a heteronym.) “Pour”, on the other hand, is what you do when you are transferring liquid out of a container. So when I read about you ‘pouring over the newspaper in the morning’, I wonder: “Is that what you really mean?”

Peak/Peek: A “Peak” is a pinnacle. The top. The pointy bit at the very tippy-top of a mountain. The apex of two (or more) slopes. It is a noun. “Peek” is what you do when you have the covers drawn up over your head even though you know the clown at the end of your bed is still there, and is going to be there until you fall asleep, which is when it will begin to strip the flesh from your body in long, thin strips with its razor-sharp teeth and scalpel fingers. “Peek” is a verb.

Exasperate/Exacerbate: We all like to be clever. We like to be smart. We like other people to know how clever and how smart we are. Some of us like to show off how much we know about stuff. Some of us like to show off how much we know about EVERYTHING. I think that “Exasperate/Exacerbate” is one of those cases where we’re using words that we THINK we know what they mean, because of the context we’re using them in, but either we’re mispronouncing them, or we don’t know that there is another word that sounds *similar*, but which has a very different meaning. “Exacerbate” means “to make worse”. Wearing sunscreen exacerbates my spots. “Exasperate” means “to frustrate”: My spots are utterly exasperating, because I look like a teenager.

Emanate/Emulate: This one is for Smarty Pants. Or rather, for whichever announcer it was that he heard use this word. “Emanate” means ‘comes from’ or ‘comes out of’ -> The horrible thumping and tweeting sounds that made me wonder if I was having a stroke emanated from a run-down car with tinted windows. “Emulate” means ‘imitate’ -> The software I downloaded emulates a first-generation Nintendo game system.

Lead/led -> Lead, pronounced ‘leed’, is easy (verb -> to guide; noun -> mechanism by which something is guided, like a leash or a rope). It’s when we get to the homonyms ‘lead’ (pronounced ‘l-eh-d’) and ‘led’ that we sometimes get our shoelaces wrapped up around our ankles. “Lead” is an element. I think its atomic number is somewhere in the 80s, but I don’t remember exactly. It’s a very soft metal, and it’s very dense. It’s also toxic, and you should NOT eat it, no matter how appealing it looks. “Led” is the past form of the verb “to lead”. So if you write that someone “lead the horse into the barn, tugging gently on the lead”, you mean “led the horse into the barn, tugging gently on the lead”.

These are the sorts of problems I have encountered more than twice in the past week. I don’t mean to sound like one of those douchebag know-it-alls who proselytise and brag about how much they know about stuff. I’m really just trying to help. I know people who always have to have the best, loudest opinion because they are the ultimate authority on everything. Or at least, the ultimate authority on the thing you are talking about. That’s not what I’m meaning to do.

I just want to help you be the best communicator you can be.

cenobyte is a writer, editor, blogger, and super genius from Saskatchewan, Canada.


  1. I see these and more daily… sometimes even in professionally edited books. I know I’m far from perfect myself, my personal weakness is punctuation but the words that people abuse drives me nuts. Often it seems it’s common phrases that are the problem (like your pore/pour example) and if people actually tried to make sense of where the phrase might have come from they would see how wrong they are. Also, never read blog replies and youtube comments, they will make your brain bleed.

  2. In all seriousness though, I can’t not hardly comprehend how people can make gregarious errors as you depicted. Luckily for us peons, we have people like you to draft the occasional treaties to help educate us ;)

i make squee noises when you tell me stuff.

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