Beware of those homophones!

rogersgeorge on July 8th, 2010

I just read a review of a new BMW motorcycle, to be revealed this fall. The article was articulate and clear, and the writer was obviously familiar with motorcycles. But he gave us a good lesson on homophones by illustrating how not to use two of them. (He also got “comprise” wrong every time he used that word, but that’s another lesson.)

A homophone is a word that sounds exactly like another word, but is spelled differently and has a different meaning. Such as blue, the color, and blew, past tense of blow. Another famous example is there, their, and they’re. Puhleeze—get those right! Because the spelling is different, a wrong homonym is easy to spot, so it’s a really good way to betray your lack of grasp of English.

Here’s one from the article:

“So, without further adieu…”

He meant “without further ado.”  Adieu means farewell, and ado means, well, commotion. “Adieu” is even harder to spell than “ado.” And he had the title of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing to guide him. I’m not sure why he went to all that work just to get it wrong.

Here’s the other:

“We have to make due for the moment with concept and design sketches seen here…” (BMW wouldn’t let him photograph the motorcycle.)

It’s “make do.” Both due and do have many meanings, but the correct word here is “do.”

I will say that it is an impressive motorcycle.

Bonus: If the words are spelled the same but have different origins, they are homographs (row a boat, lined up in a row), and if they are spelled the same but pronounced differently, they are heteronyms. (—a tear in some fabric, and a tear running down your cheek). Yes, you can have overlap. Depends on which dictionary you use, and who your English teacher was.

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