Amusing but Confusing: Words That Get Misused

Steve Meitz (aka Bus Rider) has done it again (thanks Steve!).  He’s come up with another interesting idea.  Maybe I need to add his name to the blog banner.

The English language is a confusing morass of words, rules, punctuation marks and parts of speech (wikipedia lists well over 100 different figures of speech such as anastrophes, the inversion of accepted word order. Think of Jedi Master Yoda: speaks in anastrophes, he does). Many we have looked at before, but this time Steve pointed me to a list of paired words which are commonly confused. They are spelled differently and in some cases sound different yet are still easily confused. And of course this kind of typo isn’t something that will get flagged by spell check.

Here’s the list

indignation strong displeasure at something considered unjust, offensive, insulting, or base; righteous anger.
indignity an injury to a person’s dignity; slighting or contemptuous treatment; humiliating affront, insult, or injury.

forward to advance or help onward; promote.
foreword a short introductory statement in a published work, as a book, especially when written by someone other than the author.

defuse to make less dangerous, tense, or embarrassing.
diffuse widely spread or scattered; dispersed.

loath unwilling; reluctant; disinclined; averse.
loathe to feel disgust or intense aversion for; abhor.

palate the roof of the mouth.
palette a thin and usually oval or oblong board or tablet with a thumb hole at one end, used by painters for holding and mixing colors.

quaffed to drink a beverage, especially an intoxicating one, copiously and with hearty enjoyment.
coiffed to dress or arrange the hair.

gibe to utter mocking or scoffing words; jeer.
jibe to be in harmony or accord; agree

tussled to have struggled or fought roughly or vigorously; wrestle; scuffle.
tousled a disheveled or rumpled mass, especially of hair.

exacted to call for, demand, or require.
extracted to get, pull, or draw out, usually with special effort, skill, or force.

After digging a little deeper I found some more commonly confused or misused words:

affect to act upon; produce an effect or change
effect something produced by a cause; result; consequence

allusion a passing reference or incidental mention
illusion deception, a false or misleading impression

bimonthly occurring every two months
semimonthly occurring twice a month

capital a city or town that is the seat of government
capitol the building in which the legislature convenes

cite to quote as an authority
site a location

complement something that completes or makes perfect as in the wine complements the meal
compliment to praise or greet courteously

comprise to include, contain or consist of
compose to combine or make up

concurrent at the same time
consecutive one after the other

elicit to draw out or bring forth; evoke as in to elicit a response
illicit illegal, unlawful, unlicensed

flaunt conspicuously parade or display
flout treat with disdain, scorn or contempt

lay t0 place or put a thing
lie to be in a horizontal or recumbent position as on a bed

principal the highest in rank as in a school principal
principle an accepted rule of action or conduct; a fundamental law or truth

venal corruptible; willing to sell one’s influence; open to bribery
venial forgivable; not seriously wrong as in a venial sin

There are three other pairs of words that I have to constantly look up in order to tell them apart.  I can spell them correctly and I know the definitions of each word but I just can’t remember which definition goes with which spelling. Seeing them in context helps me differentiate between them but putting them in context is much harder for me.

stared to gaze fixedly
starred studded with stars, or the participation of a celebrity

scared frightened, afraid
scarred a physical blemish often caused by a cut or other trauma

desert an arid and often sandy area
dessert a sweet ending to a meal such as cake, pie or ice cream.

I also used to confuse the words loose (not tight) and lose (misplace), but I have broken myself of that bad habit. Which words plague you?  What’s your thorn in the side? Share them in the comments section below.

illustration by Andy Black

16 comments on “Amusing but Confusing: Words That Get Misused

  1. Effect/affect is something my whole entire company gets wrong consistently.

    E-mails are littered with the mistake.

    I should send a link to your blog to all of them 😉

  2. there/their inquire/enquire him/hem herd/heard here/hear
    just little ones that drive me crazy when used incorrectly, and I am terrible with grammer

    • So many of these are avoidable if we take the time to check that we are using the right word and believe me, I am among the violators. It’s good to review some of these. Thanks for you’re additions (just kidding your is the correct word) : )

  3. “Your driving you’re car ” – mixing those two up drives me insane. You’ll never get principle wrong if you remember the principal is your pal. 🙂 Great list!

    • I like the nemonic device for principal/principle. I use something similar to remember how to differentiate between capital and capitol: capital with an ‘a’ as in place and capitol with an ‘o’ as in dome.

  4. I accept your offer for a by-line except you spelled my name wrong. Or was that on porpoise?

  5. I have to say the rule in my head as I write in order to get affect/effect right. One I see messed up regularly is peek/peak. That one drives me nuts when I see it.

    • Peek and peak, I would have never thought of that one. Thanks for sharing it. I agree that affect/effect is a tough one and even having provided the definitions, I don’t know if I can bring about a change with much affect—Doh!—I mean effect.

  6. I sat on the patio of my desert home and while eating my dessert, perused you latest post. I quaffed my lavendar tea which complemented my meal and thought I must compliment you.
    By the way why do we PARK our cars in a DRIVEWAY?

  7. Great list! I’ve found some even more egregious (or at least unusual) word mix-ups made by professional writers, including “merengue” and “meringue,” “morning” and “mourning,” “horde” and “hoard,” and “oversees” and “overseas.” There are some that appear nearly every day (or “everyday” as they often write), including “peek” and “peak.” My favorite has to be “cache” and “cachet.” Or maybe “penchant” and “pension.”

    • Laura– thanks for these. since last posting this I have thought of a couple more such as “aisle” and “isle” or “wet” and “whet” or “utter” and “udder”

  8. […] Amusing but Confusing: Words That Get Misused (andyswordsandpictures.wordpress.com) […]

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