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Confused Words

July 5, 2013

Have you ever been reading along nicely when you encountered a phrase that didn’t make sense?  I have.  When I examined it more closely, I discovered that the writer had used the wrong word.  When I substituted the correct word, the phrase made sense again.  These words generally sound the same but are spelled differently and have a different meaning.  Here are some examples I’ve collected:

tow the line

This one almost makes sense.  Perhaps you are dragging a rope behind your car or behind your boat.  I don’t know what it means, though.  The real phrase is “toe the line”, which means to put your toes on the marked line.  It implies following discipline.

peaked their interest

This one too almost makes sense.  Something raised their interest to the very top.  Maybe it’s even what the writer intended.  The real phrase is “piqued their interest”, which means that something attracted their interest.  This must be what the writer really meant.

do not jive

Well, jive is a dance, so perhaps the two things couldn’t dance together.  That makes sense, doesn’t it.  Somehow, I doubt it.  It’s really “do not jibe”, which means that the two things did not agree with each other.  That’s better, I’m sure.

I was going to fast

Well maybe, but how did intending to go without food contribute to your automobile accident?  I’m sure you meant “I was going too fast”.  Yes, excessive speed will do it when the road takes a sudden curve.  There was certainly a curve when I was reading that sentence.

honing in on the solution

This one is clearly confused.  Honing is something you do to sharpen a blade, like a chisel or a razor.  “Homing in on the solution” makes a lot more sense.  I can picture a pigeon turning towards its loft or the secret police rotating their antenna to find a hidden transmitter.

Why do people make these mistakes?  I can only speculate, of course.  They must have heard that phrase spoken, but never seen it written.  They must have picked the most common spelling for the unknown word.  Probably they didn’t understand the reference, the story behind the word.  Am I being too generous?  Maybe they just don’t care if a word is wrong; the reader won’t care either.

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