‘White’ and ‘wight’

I’m jumping on the Halloween bandwagon with this week’s homophones: white and wight. I sometimes read people have been to the ‘Isle of White’ or would like to discuss the actions of the ‘Wight Walkers’ in Game of Thrones.

ghostsWhite

  • the colour (such as that of milk or snow)*
  • pale or light in colour
  • a person or people with pale or light-coloured skin
  • counter-revolutionary

Wight

  • a living being (in archaic usage)
  • a ghost, spirit or other supernatural being
  • a specific shipping forecast area covering part of the English Channel (‘Wight’)

My tip: a wight could be a ghost.

*I’m aware scientists may disagree with referring to white as a colour but it’s acceptable to do so in general usage.


Sources:

‘Moose’ and ‘mousse’

The misuse of moose and mousse is another one of those mix-ups that can be slightly amusing. If I read something like “I ordered a moose for dessert” or  “we photographed a mousse in the wild” I can’t help but play those little scenarios out in my mind (but then I am easily amused).

mooseMoose

  • a large deer with big, flattened antlers (also referred to as an elk)

Mousse

  • a smooth, light dish usually made with cream and egg whites
  • the mass of tiny bubbles on top of a sparkling wine
  • a foamy substance used to style hair or as a cosmetic or skin care product; to style using mousse
  • the emulsion of oil and water after an oil spill

My tip: a mousse is often a dessert.


Sources:

  • Collins English Dictionary, 2009
  • Oxford Dictionaries Online

‘Leak’ and ‘leek’

This post is inspired by one of my favourite GIFs and probably the only part of Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 I can actually remember: “Ahh! There’s a leek in the boat!”. I’ve spent more time rewatching that clip than I care to admit.

Leak and leek are, of course, homophones. The similar spelling means that they are frequently used in place of each other.

Leak

  • a crack or hole that allows the accidental escape or entrance of liquid, gas, radiation, etc.; to allow the accidental escape or entrance of contents through a hole or crack
  • the escaping or entering liquid, etc.
  • a disclosure of secret information; to make secret information public
  • an act or instance of leaking

leekLeek

  • a plant of the onion family with a slender cylindrical white bulb and flat green overlapping leaves

My tip: leeks are green. And if you would like to describe something that resembles a leek, I have just the word: porraceous.


Sources:

  • Collins English Dictionary, 2009
  • Oxford Dictionaries Online

‘Sail’ and ‘sale’

Sail and sale are homophones. I suspect incorrect usage usually occurs by accident or because the writer is more familiar with one word than the other.

Sail

  • a sheet of material used to catch the wind and move a vessel over waterSail
  • a voyage or trip on a ship or boat; to voyage or travel on a ship or boat
  • to navigate or control a ship
  • to begin a voyage
  • something that resembles a sail (in shape or function)
  • to move along smoothly and rapidly or with confidence

Sale

  • the exchange of goods or property for money
  • an event or period during which goods are sold at reduced prices

My tip: a sale requires money; a sail requires wind.


Sources:

  • Collins English Dictionary
  • Oxford Dictionaries Online

‘Vial’ and ‘vile’

This post is inspired by my cat. I have several vials of insulin in the fridge for him; they are currently of no use because he is now an ex-diabetic cat. (All fingers and toes crossed he stays that way!) But the long dead and decomposing bird he brought me to celebrate was vile.

DSC03995-BLUEVial

  • a small container or bottle (typically cylindrical) used for holding liquids (usually medicines)

Vile

  • extremely unpleasant or bad

My tip: a vial is a container.

‘Mail’ and ‘male’

This week marks a return to homophones. I find that male is occasionally used when mail would be appropriate. I have borrowed one of the definitions below because I don’t think I can explain it more succinctly.

Post boxMail

  • letters and parcels etc. sent by post
  • to send something by post
  • flexible armour made of metal rings, links or plates

Male

  • ‘of or denoting the sex that produces gametes, especially spermatozoa, with which a female may be fertilized or inseminated to produce offspring’ (Oxford Dictionaries)
  • a male person, plant or animal

Mail is also sometimes used as a short form of email. Unfortunately, I don’t have a simple tip to help anyone who might struggle to use mail and male correctly; if you have a suggestion for a memory aid, please share it below!


Sources:

  • Collins English Dictionary
  • Oxford Dictionaries Online

‘Nigh’ and ‘nye’

Nigh and nye are homophones, and neither is particularly common. I suspect a general audience would be most familiar with nigh. Nigh is considered archaic and literary, but the usage of nye is very limited.

PheasantNigh

  • near
  • close to
  • almost or nearly

Nye

  • a brood (or sometimes flock) of pheasants

My tip: “the end is nigh”.

‘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).

DrumsCymbal

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

Symbol

  • 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.

‘Waiver’ and ‘waver’

Waiver and waver are homophones, but they mean very different things. I often find that waiver is used when the writer actually means waver – I presume the mistake is made because the writer has the ay sound in mind.

Waiver

  • the act or an instance of giving up a claim or right
  • a document recording the giving up of a claim or right

Waver

  • Candle flamesto hesitate between possibilities; to be indecisive
  • to swing from one thing to another
  • to become unsteady; to falter; to become weaker
  • to move back and forth or one way and another; to quiver or flicker

My tip: try to associate waiver with the giving up of a claim. It should be fairly easy to remember that waver is the spelling for everything else.

‘Tuba’ and ‘tuber’

Foodies, gardeners and musicians are probably well aware of the difference between a tuba and a tuber.

PotatoesTuba

  • a large, low-pitched brass musical instrument with valves and a broad bell (that typically faces upwards)

Tuber

  • a fleshy, thickened underground root or stem of a plant
  • a rounded swelling or protuberance

Accidentally writing about someone ‘playing a tuber’ would be unfortunate. My suggestion is to try to remember that a tuber grows underground.