English!?

“Critical writing is thinking about your writing while you’re thinking about what you’re writing in order to make sure what you’re writing reflects what you’re thinking.”

One of the issues with writing is trying to make sure you are actually communicating the message you were thinking.

This is easier done than said.

The reason for this is that with writing one has the time to set things aside and reread them later.  This proofing, theoretically, provides one time to ponder one’s words and see if they really convey what you once thought they were conveying.  If not, edit.

Unfortunately, one does not have that opportunity when speaking.  The editing process (brain) should be engaged before one speaks.  Otherwise, you end up with the following rationalizing, self-defensive and justifying pontification:

“I know you think you understand what you thought I said but I’m not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant” (attributed to Alan Greenspan, former Fed chairman, and in a slight variation to Robert McCluskey, the children’s book author, and, silently, to every one of us at one time or another).

There are times, however, when proofing focuses so much on meaning that it misses the visual clues, or, in the following, what’s hidden behind the word’s unintended camouflage.  (This is why it is good to have another pair of eyes proof one’s work.)

We speak here of Homographs, Heteronyms, and Homonyms.  And probably Homophones, too.

A homograph is a word that shares the same written form as another word, but has a different meaning.

Heteronyms, while written the same, when spoken can be distinguished by different pronunciations.

A homonym has both the same written form and pronunciation.  (Due to this unique combination, someone decided that they didn’t need a unique designation, but could also be referred to as homographs and homophones.  Thanks.)

A recent email came across my desk that gave me some fun, and enlightening, reading (even though it could still have used some additional proofing).  The email had not really gone viral but appeared to move more like a herd of grazing cattle. Here, for entertainment or confusion, are some examples we can take for granted everyday.  (Ok, some of them were a bit contrived).

  • The bandage was wound around his wound.
  • The farm was used to produce produce.
  • The town dump was so full it had to refuse more refuse.
  • They had to polish their new Polish furniture.
  • He could lead if he got the lead out.
  • The soldier decided to desert his dessert in the desert.
  • Since there is no time like the present, she thought it was time to present her present.
  • The bass painted a bass on the head of the bass drum.
  • The dove dove into the bushes.
  • I did not object to the object in question.
  • The insurance was invalid for the invalid.
  • There was a row on the boat about how to row.
  • The chair was too close to the door to close it.
  • A buck does funny things when does are near.
  • To help with planting, the farmer taught his sow to sow.
  • How can I intimate this to my most intimate friend?
  • He couldn’t bear to bear the bear back into the woods.
  • After the row, she moped around on her moped.
  • She shed a tear upon seeing a tear in the painting.

Consider further,

  • There is no egg in eggplant,
  • No ham in hamburger, and
  • Neither apple nor pine in pineapple.
  • English muffins were not invented in England,
  • Nor French fries in France.
  • Sweetmeats are candies, while sweetbreads are meats that aren’t sweet.
  • Quicksand works slowly.
  • Boxing rings are square, and
  • A guinea pig is neither from Guinea nor is it a pig.

And really ponder these, because eventually you will have to explain it to your kids,

  • Writers write, but fingers do not fing.
  • Grocers do not groce, and hammers do not ham.
  • You can made amends, but not one amend…
  • If the plural of tooth is teeth, why isn’t the plural of booth beeth?
  • If one goose, two geese, why not one moose, two meese?
  • If you have a bunch of odds and ends and get rid of all but one of them, what do you call it?
  • If teachers taught, why don’t preachers praught?
  • If a vegetarian eats vegetables, what does a humanitarian eat?
  • We ship by truck, but send cargo by ship.
  • Our noses run, and our feet smell.
  • Why is a slim chance and a fat chance the same?
  • But a wise man and a wise guy are the opposite?
  • We recite at a play, and play at a recital.
  • Our houses burn up when they burn down.
  • We fill in a form by filling it out.
  • Our alarms go off when they go on.
  • When the stars are out they are visible, but when the lights are out they are not.

And, to keep you awake at night,

  • Why doesn’t Buick rhyme with quick?
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About Jim Edmonds

I am a husband, father, mentor, who once was a chemist turned physicist turned marketer turned executive turned missionary turned professor. And survived it all.
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