Our ears frequently deceive us. We hear a word or phrase, make assumptions about its spelling, and then find ourselves using it. Sometimes, we use it correctly, but sometimes we’ve confused it with a similar word. There are many that sound identical but actually have vastly different meanings.
Think those misuses aren’t a big deal? Heck, autocorrect is often to blame. Sorry, but those mistakes undermine our hard-earned credibility and make us appear to be less intelligent than we really are. Please bare with me as I uncover some common examples of mangled words:
Bare with us. Some enjoy communal nudity, but companies aren’t issuing an apparel-optional invitation when they post on social media saying, “Please bare with us.” Maybe there’s been some sort of delay, and they want us to be patient. The word they’re after is “bear,” as in “I just can’t bear to listen to any more K-Pop.” When people use the word “bare,” they generally mean “naked.” So when you ask me to “bare” with you, I’m assuming you have a hot tub.
Can’t stay a part. I find this one particularly amusing, because the words getting mangled convey nearly opposite meanings. The single word “apart” means “separate,” while its homophonic counterpart “a part” refers to a component of a larger assemblage. So when you say the sales manager “is apart of our team,” you’re actually saying they don’t work with you. And when you write “we need to keep those employees a part,” you’re urging they remain together and with you.
Hand over the reigns. A CEO retires and a new CEO takes their place in corporate royalty. Indeed, we soon read press releases about the “reigns” of power being handed over. But that type of “reign” is a word referring to the role of royalty, as in “the House of Windsor has reigned over the U.K. and Commonwealth since 1901.” If you’re referring to controls, the word you want is “rein,” namely the straps used to command horses.
Pass a levee. A “levee” is an embankment built to block floodwaters from entering an area. A “levy” is a tax. If your local town council members have “passed a levee,” they’re probably feeling more than a little discomfort.
Garage sell. My suspicion is this mangle grew out of Appalachian accents. When people from parts of that region say “mail,” “bale,” or “jail,” folks around here hear “mell,” “bell,” and “jell,” entirely different words. So it’s no surprise “sale” is heard as “sell.” As others pick up that pronunciation, it’s creeping into advertising and social media. “We’re having a holiday sell this weekend” or “My church is having a rummage sell.” In both cases, you may be doing some selling, but the event (and every transaction) is known as a “sale” (with two syllables).
Are you principled? “Principle” and “principal” are misused so often that it’s only a matter of time before only one spelling survives. As nouns, “principle” is a guiding belief, while “principal” is the head of a school or a key member of a partnership. And “principal” as an adjective means “first” or primary.” So this sentence works: “The principal’s principal principle posed eschewing obfuscation.”
Disperse the funds. When most people say the words “disperse” and “disburse,” they sound identical. There are similarities, but they do have very different meanings.. “Disperse” implies spreading around, as in “I’ll disperse the grass seed over the bare spot.” “Disburse” involves paying someone, as in “Accounts Payable finally disbursed the funds.”
You’re not aloud. Spelled differently and with disparate meanings, “aloud” and “allowed” are often confused in print. To be “aloud” is to be heard by others, as in “Everyone laughed when I read the CEO’s expense report aloud.” It’s a synonym for “out loud.” But to be “allowed” is to be permitted to take advantage of a privilege. “Can you believe the CEO was allowed to claim his treadmill time as business mileage?” And if you’ve entered the Zoom meeting but are muted, you’re not aloud, even though you’ve been allowed.
I appraised you. Another pair creating frequent confusion is “appraise” and “apprise.” It’s amazing what that extra “a” accomplishes. “Apprise” means to inform, as in “I apprised the CEO of the coup being planned by the sales team.” “Appraise” means to determine the value of something. “Our CEO’s desk has an appraised value larger than that of my house.”
Making sure you choose the right words is all about accuracy and presenting what you want to say as clearly and correctly as possible. So when I encourage you to “bear with me,” rest assured you can keep your clothes on.