‘Cymbal’ and ‘symbol’

Cymbal and symbol are homophones. It tends to be symbol that is used when cymbal would be appropriate rather than the other way round; I suspect that is because symbol is simply more familiar. I also find cymbal is sometimes misspelt as cymbol (I haven’t been able to find any sources that accept cymbol as a legitimate alternative spelling, but I would be interested to hear from anyone who has such a source).


  • a slightly concave, round brass plate which is struck against another or with a stick to produce a sound


  • a mark, shape, sign, figure or character used as a conventional representation of an object, quantity, function, process or organisation
  • a thing that stands for or represents something else

My tip: cymbals are used when producing music.


‘Palate’, ‘palette’ and ‘pallet’

I must admit I have to think very carefully about these three.


  • the roof of the mouth
  • the sense of taste or ability to distinguish between and appreciate flavours
  • the flavour of wine and beer


  • a flat, thin board used by artists to mix paints
  • the range of colours characteristic of a particular artist or school of painting, also the range of colours used in a particular painting
  • the range of colours, patterns or shapes that can be displayed on the visual display unit of a computer
  • the range of tonal colour in a piece of music


  • https://pixabay.com/en/pallets-wood-pile-wooden-745422/a straw-filled mattress or bed; a crude, temporary or makeshift bed
  • a tool (often wooden) with a flat blade used for shaping clay or plaster
  • a portable platform for stacking, storing and moving goods
  • a projection on a machine part that changes the motion of a wheel

Pallet also has specialist uses in relation to timepieces and heraldry.

‘Whine’ and ‘wine’

I bring you more homophones.


  • a long, high-pitched plaintive cry; a long, high-pitched unpleasant sound
  • to issue a long, high-pitched cry or sound
  • a petulant complaint
  • to whinge or complain.


  • https://pixabay.com/en/wine-rose-glass-glasses-pink-791133/an alcoholic drink produced by the fermenting of grapes (usually with sugar and water)
  • an alcoholic drink produced by the fermenting of other fruits and flowers (usually with sugar and water)
  • a dark purplish-red colour.

You can wine and dine someone by offering them (usually lavish) drinks and a meal, or you can wine and dine as you enjoy yourself by eating and drinking.

Thank you to Jeff Curry for suggesting this post.

‘Tire’ and ‘tyre’

In British English, these are the spellings for two words with different meanings.


  • to reduce the energy of (usually by exertion); to feel or cause to feel in need of sleep/rest
  • to become bored with or lose interest in something; to exhaust the patience of.


  • a ring of rubber fitted round the rim of a wheel of a road vehicle to form a soft contact with the road
  • a band of metal fitted round the rim of a wheel (typically of a railway vehicle).

In American English, tire is the standard spelling for both meanings. Tyre is actually thought to be a variant of the old form tire (a shortening of attire because the tyre was seen as the ‘clothing’ of the wheel).

Thank you to Aeryn Rudel for suggesting this post.

Are you on tenderhooks?

No, but you might be on tenterhooks.

If you are on tenterhooks, you are in a state of suspense or agitation because of uncertainty about an event in the future.

Tenterhooks were hooks that held cloth firmly in place on tenters. Tenters were wooden frames used to stretch cloth after it had been milled. They were used so that cloth dried evenly and didn’t shrink.

The first usage of tenterhooks in the sense of suspense can be found in Tobias Smollett’s novel The Adventures of Roderick Random, published in 1748: “I made no reply, but left him upon the tenter-hooks of impatient uncertainty.”

‘Current’ or ‘currant’?


  • A small dried fruit made from a seedless grape*
  • A small round acid berry
  • A family of shrubs that produce berries (including redcurrants and blackcurrants)


  • Of the immediate present – happening or being done/used now
  • Most recent or up-to-date
  • Commonly accepted or in common use
  • A flow of air or water in a definite direction, particularly through a body of air or water that has less movement
  • A flow of electricity or the rate of flow of electric charge
  • A general trend or drift (thoughts, opinions and events)

* Only acceptable in foodstuffs if it has first been soaked in copious amounts of brandy, rum or similar (as far as I am concerned).

‘Insure’ and ‘ensure’

These words have overlapping meanings to do with certainty and security.


  • To guarantee or protect (usually against risk, damage or loss) in a financial sense
  • To take out or issue an insurance policy


  • To make certain
  • To make safe or protect

In American English, insure is used instead of ensure. It is much less common to see this in British English (and probably to be avoided).

‘Flare’ or ‘flair’?

Flare and flair are homophones, and homophones are often confused. Flare tends to be used when the word should be flair. I think this is because we are more used to seeing and using flare (it has a wider range of uses).


  • A natural talent, aptitude or ability.
  • Stylishness (usually distinctive) or originality.


  • A device that produces a sudden blaze of light.
  • A blaze of light used to illuminate, alert, or signal distress or location.
  • A part that spreads outwards from a narrow to wider shape.
  • Flares are trousers that have a ‘flare’ at the bottom of each leg.*
  • An unsteady flame or a sudden burst of flame.
  • A sudden explosion in the chromosphere and corona of a star that results in an intense burst of radiation (astronomy).https://pixabay.com/en/lens-effect-flare-sunset-above-768692/
  • The extraneous light on film that is caused by reflections inside the camera (photography).
  • The curve of a vessel’s bow (outwards and upwards), which is designed to throw the water outward when moving.
  • To break out suddenly (temper, conflict) or a burst of intense emotion.
  • To glow with a sudden intensity (light or someone’s eyes). It can also mean ‘dilate’ or ‘widen’ in terms of nostrils.
  • An illness can flare up – a sudden occurrence or recurrence. Also used to apply to violence or temper.

*Before my time.