The Language Perfectionist: More Confusables

Here’s another roundup of look-alike and sound-alike words I frequently see confused:

  • A bomb is defused; something that’s spread around is diffused.
  • A flare is an illuminated signal; something done with style displays flair.
  • If you read something carefully, you’re poring over it, not pouring (which you do only with a beverage or other liquid).
  • If you’re reluctant to do something, you’re loath to do it; you loathe something if you hate it.
  • An interesting discovery will pique your interest, not peak it.

Finally, this verse may help you avoid another common misuse:

An apiary‘s home to bees;
An aviary‘s for the birds.
Which proves that we should watch our words,
And learn to mind our P’s and V’s.

[Ed Note: For more than three decades, Don Hauptman was a direct-response copywriter. He is author of the wordplay books Cruel and Unusual Puns and Acronymania, and is now writing a book that also blends language and humor.]

Don Hauptman was an award-winning independent direct-response copywriter and creative consultant for more than 30 years. He may be best known for his headline “Speak Spanish [French, German, etc.] Like a Diplomat!” This familiar series of ads sold spectacular numbers of recorded foreign language lessons for Audio-Forum, generating revenues that total in the tens of millions of dollars. In the process, the ad achieved the status of an industry classic. Don’s work is mentioned in three major college advertising textbooks, and examples of his promotions are cited in the books Million Dollar Mailings (1992) and World's Greatest Direct Mail Sales Letters (1996). In a column in Advertising Age, his name was included in a short list of direct-marketing “superstars.” He has a parallel career as a writer on language and wordplay. His celebration of spoonerisms, Cruel and Unusual Puns (Dell, 1991), received rave reviews and quickly went into a second printing. His second book was Acronymania (Dell, 1993). Recently, Don retired from full-time copywriting in order to focus on other interests, including his passion for “recreational linguistics.” He is at work on a new book in that genre. He is a regular contributor to the magazine Word Ways and writes “The Language Perfectionist,” a weekly column on grammar and usage, for Early to Rise. Don is author of The Versatile Freelancer,an e-book from American Writers and Artists, Inc. (AWAI) that shows copywriters – and almost anyone – how to diversify their careers into consulting, training, critiquing, and speaking.