WATCH HOW YOU SAY IT
I’d just finished my 625th review on Amazon last Saturday (December 10th). As I was editing it before pushing the “publish” button, I caught a word that the spell checker wouldn’t recognize as wrong. The sentence in question referred to the author using a co-author and said that though he let this co-author do the heavy lifting, he still had a firm hand on the reigns. What I meant to say is he had a firm hand on the reins. Since the first word was spelled correctly, spell checker wouldn’t have known it was the wrong usage of the word. A good grammar checker might have caught it, but more than likely, even grammar checker would have skipped it over in favor of something more blatant.
The chances are, the average reader wouldn’t notice, but more aware readers might call you on it. Sure, a good editor is paid to catch stuff like that, but you, as a writer, should know better. Of course, none of us are perfect, but the better we are at catching our mistakes, the less chance we have of making ourselves an easy target.
Years ago, my buddy Doug Lubahn caught me in a doozy when in an e-mail to him I told him I was waiting with baited breath for something or other. What I meant to say was bated breath. He never let me hear the end of it!
The point is that when you choose to use words like that with double meanings or words with similar pronunciations but different spellings, step carefully! Those little errors can make for some embarrassing gaffes that give ammunition to your detractors. It’s bad enough when they don’t like your story. So what? That’s a given. However, when they have an easy target like the quality of your writing, you’re giving them an opening they don’t deserve.
Two of the technical terms I’m talking about are homophones and homonyms. An example of a homophone would be “I received some mail from a male friend.” Homophones are two words that are pronounced the same but are spelled differently and have different meanings, as in my reins example above.
On the other hand, a homonym is a word that is spelled the same but is pronounced two different ways and has two different meanings such as “I wound up the clock.” On the other hand, it could be used as “Justin dressed the wound on his arm.”
As a writer, you shouldn’t have a problem with homonyms. However, the homophones are the ones that can give you grief. Be aware of them and always double check them. Don’t depend on your editor to catch them all. Save yourself some embarrassment!
Oh, and don’t forget to clothes the door on the way out!