Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Talking on the homophone

So let's talk homophones.
No, this is not Sir Ian McKellan's cellular, but words that sound alike.
There are homophones, homonyms and homographs.

Homonyms are words with many meanings:
Spruce tree/spruce the place up, suit of cards, suit of clothes, that kind of thing.

Homographs are when the same word has a different sound and meaning.
Don't desert me in the desert.
She was present in the present position.
I had a long argument about this one with a co-author, until I realized he was reading present position--which is Pre-zent, like "present arms"-- as prez-ent, meaning she was just there.

But as an editor, I find it's the homophones and near-homophones that trip people up the most.

"He walked threw the woods and through the gun in the lake." That's a composite, but a fair representation of two sentences in one book I edited.

"That's beyond the pail."
I read that in a story once and went "it's past the bucket?" Because a paling is a sharp stick, and a bunch of palings make a pale, a fence on which to impale your enemies. Anything outside the fence is an enemy and hence "beyond the pale."


A note here about passed and past. They are not the same word. They do not even sound alike (at least to my Missouri ear). Yet, I've worked with writers from Montana to Memphis who substitute one for the other.

Past is about location.  It can be an adjective: "past recipient of the award" or a noun, "put your behind in the past," and adverb "It flew past me." or a preposition, "the cat went past the sign." (a preposition is anywhere a cat can go)

Passed is a past-tense verb. "The days passed." "He passed on." "She passed me the potatoes."
An easy way to check, is to change the tense. "The days passed." becomes "The days are passing."  This tells you it's a verb. "The days went past." Here, past modifies the verb "went."

And by the way, if you call the airship, our aertheric line is now called the Homo-phone. Because we can.

Until next week, ducks, this has been a public service message from your line editor!

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