As a long-time reader of this and other newspapers, I have a tendency to mentally cringe when I see errors in spelling — especially those committed by me — that make it into print.
While spell-checking software has made it easier for those in my line of work to avoid mistakes, it is incapable of culling out words that are spelled correctly but have a definition that is sometimes (unintentionally) hilariously different from the one intended by the writer.
Take the case of homophones — words that sound the same as other words but have different spellings and meanings, like break and brake or pedal and peddle, but rely completely on writers’ and editors’ skills to ensure they are used correctly.
One of the more common cases of homophonic mistaken identity to appear in print involves the words poring and pouring. I have seen countless references to lawyers, academicians or students “pouring” over documents or transcripts as if they were applying syrup to them, rather than “poring” over them, as in studying, scrutinizing or examining them.
In fact, President Trump tweeted last July that he was irritated that “the Fake News constantly likes to pour over my tweets looking for a mistake.”
The same holds true for bale and bail. It’s taken decades, but I’ve finally gotten it straight that hay is “baled” and not “bailed,” despite having baled and stacked thousands of bales each summer in my younger days before bailing out of the family farm biz.
Among the more humorous errors involving homophones that I’ve seen in print were the description of a politician being “well quaffed,” or amply supplied with brewery products, instead of “well-coiffed,” or being tastefully barbered, and instead of using the expression “it’s a crapshoot” to indicate a risky matter, substituting “it’s a crap chute,” meaning something, er, quite different.
The newspaper in which this space appears is no stranger to mistakes involving homophones. The most memorable occurred years ago in a concert review, in which “Londonderry Air,” the musical piece to which the Irish ballad “Danny Boy” is sung, appeared in print as “London Derriere.” Needless to say, the error became the butt of numerous jokes around the newsroom.
The reason for dredging up this reflection on homophones and their unintended consequences was found in a press release I received last week from Kanawha County government. It advised me that county office operations, like those of state government, would be closed on Friday, the day after the Independence Day holiday.
One stated reason for the extra day off was that “hardworking county employees deserve respect and parody.”
I believe the word meant to be used was “parity,” or the state of being equal, especially in terms of status or pay.
But being the gentle soul that I am, I will not deliberately exaggerate the mistake for comic effect.