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Public Editor Sylvia Stead responds to readers and gives a behind-the-scenes look

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Public Editor: The horrors of homophones Add to ...

Earlier this week, The Globe and Mail’s senior editor in charge of style and usage sent a note to all staff about the horrors (Halloween and year round) of using the wrong homophone.

Martina Blaskovic, who is also night production editor, caught one such homophone error earlier this year. A description of a politician (she won’t say who) called him “well-quaffed.” The problem was the writer meant to say well-coiffed (a great hair style) as opposed to well-quaffed (having had much to drink)!

Martina reports that, for the word geeks among us: in linguistics, a homophone is a word that is pronounced the same as another word but differs in meaning. The words may be spelled the same, such as rose (as in the flower, and in the past tense of ‘rise’), or differently, such as ‘to’, ’too’, ’two’. (A homonym, by the way, is one of a group of words that share the same spelling and the same pronunciation but have different meanings, such as “left” as in meaning the opposite of ‘right’ and the past tense of ‘leave’. All homonyms are homophones because they sound the same. However, all homophones are not homonyms. In my list above, it can be argued, some are not strict homophones, which I’m hoping you’ll forgive in the interest of getting our spellings and meanings correct.

For further interest, have a look at this list of (mostly) words that thankfully we do not tend to get wrong, and which includes the impressive septuplet of “raise, rays, rase, raze, rehs, reis, res”. Here’s another one.

These errors are a major irritant to readers and so she has sent the following list to all editors. Let’s see now how well you know these words. Did you get them all correct?

Please comment if you agree or disagree. Or send me an e-mail to publiceditor@globeandmail.com on this or any other issue.

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Follow on Twitter: @SylviaStead

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