Chronic and Pervasive Misuse of a Word

A brief post by Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff at Book View Cafe: What’s in a Word: a Writer’s Rant

Anybody got a guess about the near-homonyms she might have in mind? It’s not a pair of actual homonyms. Chronic and pervasive misuse, remember.

I will add, not the obvious its/it’s; two/too/to; they’re/there/their. Those are in a category all their own. Something else, not those. For the purposes of this post, these don’t count. Also, they’re true homonyms, and this isn’t.

The most common near-homonym mistake I see, by a HUGE margin, is Effect/Affect. Nothing else comes close. Definitely nothing else comes close in actual published books. I had to resolve this confusion way back when I was writing my master’s thesis. Ever since then, I’ve never made a mistake with these two words AND I’ve been extremely, possibly excessively, sensitive to effect/affect mistakes. This is one that leaps off the page for me.

Next one for me is probably Accept/Except. I think I see that one enough to call it at least moderately chronic and pervasive.

The one Bohnhoff points out isn’t either of those. Want to guess?

Her pet peeve for this post is tenet/tenant.

I’m trying to remember whether I’ve ever seen those words mistaken for each other. I probably have? But I wouldn’t have thought of those. What do you all think? Have you seen this mistake? Enough to call it chronic and pervasive misuse of the words? I’m quite curious. Now that my attention has been drawn to this mistake, maybe it will start jumping out at me.

But probably never to the same extent of Effect/Affect.

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18 thoughts on “Chronic and Pervasive Misuse of a Word”

  1. I don’t think I see either word used often enough at all, let alone incorrectly, for it to qualify as pervasive. Ironic if she’s misusing a word…

  2. I do see this misuse quite often, mostly in pseudo-legal Facebook posts where people are arguing about the “tenants” of one principle or another. I’m a bad person: I always snigger.

  3. Gosh, I feel like I see tenant/tenet misuse all the time. Definitely triggers an angry squint at the screen.

  4. I’ve seen it, but I wouldn’t say it’s pervasive. Honestly, I don’t know that enough people really know the word “tenet” to use it or misuse tenant for it.

    The other random one that always hits me is when people mix up “pallet” and “palette”. But again, I wouldn’t say it’s pervasive.

  5. All of these. All of them stress me SO MUCH. And yes, I have seen all of them, including tenet/tenant. Actually, I’m pretty sure I saw that one last week. I was like, “really? You want to expound on a tenant for me? Because I’ve heard some doozies about rental properties.” I get snarky when I’m angry about grammar issues.

  6. Another example: principle/principal – this is soooo pervasive. I see this in published books and even business publications and it’s really annoying. I see it as a sign of lower standards in education or people getting generally lax with the written word.

  7. Kootch, you’re right, that’s one I do see a lot.

    I have enough trouble with random homonyms now that I’m more forgiving than I used to be … on social media For anything published, I agree, it looks like the person or business just doesn’t take their work seriously or respect their readers. Not a great look.

  8. Oops, I misread OKC as Orc on my small cell phone screen. Time for a new prescription? Although Orc sounds interesting!

  9. I just saw someone misusing segue vs Segway the other day…

    but luckily that’s not something I’ve seen before. My pet peeve is people who mix up rein/reign/rain. There seems to be a confusion with older idioms where the original action is no longer common. Like people will mistake “free rein” (the horse metaphor) with “free reign.” I’ve also seen “take a different tack” (sailing metaphor) confused for “different tact.”

  10. I use to think people were misusing compliment when they meant complement. Now I have seen “compliment” used where I would have used “complement” so many times that I wonder if I am the one missing something.

  11. My pet peeve is discrete and discreet. Possibly an autocorrect issue these days. I see it at work in some engineering reports where they mean discrete lots, but instead they’re discreet (which does make me smile)

  12. I’m pretty sure segue vs Segway has to be an autocorrect mistake too! Otherwise, why would “Segway” be capitalized?

    Autocorrect is evil! Also sometimes helpful. But still evil! I TRY to proofread every single thing before I hit “post” or “tweet” or whatever, but it’s genuinely difficult to catch absolutely everything, especially on a phone. Especially if I’m using my phone, but not wearing reading glasses. Too many sites can’t be blown up on a phone’s screen, which is very annoying!

    Discrete vs discreet is one I agree is pervasive. So is compliment vs complement, but I have to pause a second for that one myself, so it’s hard to throw really big stones when other people make this mistake.

    For me, similar to the above: confirmation vs conformation. In my life, the latter word is used like so: She shows in the conformation ring, not in obedience. Her head isn’t all that pretty, but her conformation is excellent. Because I use “conformation” a lot, relatively speaking, it’s hard for me to type “confirmation” and I have to pause and look at the word and think for a second.

    I agree that reign/rein is really annoying. I don’t think I see “rain” as a mistaken spelling very often, but the other two, all the time. To me, “free rein” makes perfect sense and I just can’t see how anyone could type “free reign.”

  13. Yes, I’m baffled by flout/flaunt. For some reason, those just don’t sound or really even look the same to me … maybe it’s just that the meaning is so different? I don’t know, but I don’t understand this mistake even now that homonyms are my enemies. And I agree, it is both common and annoying.

  14. Adding one I’ve seen several times in the last week: Peek/peak/pique. No pattern to which gets misused for what, either.

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