Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Homophones: Those Tricky Typos

A few days ago, I went on and on about the mistakes I found in a very successful fantasy series (*cough* A Game of Thrones *cough*). One of the mistakes I just can't get over is when the author refers to "egg yoke" instead of "egg yolk". Was no one there to stop that madness from being published? Okay, breathe, I already moaned about that in my last post... I got it out of my system... (not)

Although I like to complain a lot, I'm not free from sin. I, too, have made the homophone mistake.

But first, what are homophones? Simple: different words with different meanings that sound the same.

Notorious examples: "they're", "there", and "their".

Other notorious examples: "your" and "you're".

There are many more: which/ witch, steak/stake, way/weigh, band/banned, accept/except, bear/bare, pail/pale...

If you're interested in checking out the whole kit and caboodle, you can have a look at the website dedicated to their study and conservation (okay, maybe not that last one): www.homophones.com.

In my own novel, Serving Time, there are two embarrassing examples of homophones--but the novel hasn't been published yet so I was able to correct the mistakes in time!

Example 1: "The women lurched forward, advancing like a hoard of giant ants, crawling over the tables and benches toward her."

Example 2: "Her mummified black skin was taught around her outraged snarl."

Do you see the problem in these two sentences? The first one says "a hoard of giant ants", when it should be "horde".

Hoard = "A store of money or valued objects, typically one that is secret or carefully guarded." / "Amass (money or valued objects) and hide or store away."

Horde = "A large group of people."

Luckily, fellow CCer Rick Ellrod (who has a guest post here) caught that mistake before the manuscript ever reached my editor. Whew and thanks!

The second sentence says "her skin was taught", which means that somehow this woman's skin attended school... The correct word here is "taut", meaning "stretched or pulled tight; not slack" / "(esp. of muscles or nerves) Tense; not relaxed."

My editor caught that one. Thanks, Ashley!

Now, in my defense, I want to say that I know the difference between these words, and I was mortified when Rick and Ashley pointed out my mistakes. How could they slip by me? I had read the manuscript a gazillion times! I think two factors come into play here:

- While reading, I already knew what I wanted to say, so my eyes skipped right past the words.

- These mistakes aren't the kind of typos that show up in word processors because they are correctly spelled!

My advice to avoid these mistakes is pretty much the same as always:

1) Study vocabulary. God knows I do this! John, you're still making fun of my "penumbra", don't think I don't know! A rich vocabulary helps create a rich novel. If you have a doubt, go to the dictionary. Go to the thesaurus. Check out the list of homophones on the website mentioned above and try to be aware of what you write at all times.

2) Share your work with writing buddies. Join a critique group such as Critique Circle. With the help of other writers, you'll be able to polish your writing.

3) Finally, don't forget the editor! If I hadn't hired a professional editor, my villain's skin would be "taught" instead of "taut" (among several other issues I still have to tackle...).

Well, that's my recent experience with homophones. What about you? Have you ever had the heebie jeebies over words?


  1. Oooh, I have one! You recently caught discreet/discrete in my first chapter. Thanks for that one! :)

  2. LOL, yeah! That's a tricky one! :-)

  3. Ah, homophones. I still deal with those tricky rascals. For the longest time I had confused bored with board, and no one ever corrected me. It was only after reading someone's mention of "being bored" that I realized I'd been spelling it wrong. So, for years and years I was one board person. LOL. Thanks for the post, Nadine.

  4. Homophones are the worst. I was in a graduate poetry workshop when somebody called me on using compliment when I meant complement (as in "a full complement of soldiers.") Always kinda embarrassing.

    1. Yes! They can lead to interesting situations.


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