WORDS IN THE HAND: Homophones
Not loosing your dogs is the mark of a homophonic rant
A column to satisfy your inner grammar nerd
Calm down. Homophones are words that sound the same but are spelled differently and have different meanings. Homophobes are something else entirely.
This column is purely about the former, those intolerant words that make a huge thing about their differences even though they are so similar.
Take loose and lose. Please, take them to another continent. “Let slip the dogs of war,” said that Roman chap (he did not say “let loose” but has been widely misquoted). If your dogs’ collars were too loose, the dogs would be able to slip out of their collars and then you would lose your dogs. Another way to remember the difference is this: Some lose their minds; others just have a screw loose.And then we come to rein and reign, which get mixed up like Shane Warne and David Warner.
A rein, or more usually a pair of reins, is used to make a horse stop or turn. That’s the general idea, anyway, although not all horses read the same manual. Hence the expression “to rein in”, which can also apply to princes who spend too much money or behave badly in polite company.
Reigning is something done by the top royal. In KZN, King Goodwill Zwelithini reigns while his sons wait. In Britain, Queen Elizabeth II reigns while Prince Charles waits, Prince William serves and Prince Harry eats lemon and elderflower cake.
Rain you already know about, unless you live in the Western or Eastern Cape, in which case it is my fervent hope and desire that you will very soon be reminded of its meaning.Moving on, sliver is a word popular among those who write about art or food, mostly because it takes up less space than “very small slice”. But sliver is constantly confused with slither, which is what snakes do when trying to get to the bus stop, because they don’t have legs. I suppose a sliver of onion or a sliver of beef might slither easily down one’s throat, but no matter how thinly you slice a slithering snake I’ll say no to a sliver, thanks.
Just three more. The palate is the ceiling of the mouth. It has nothing to do with our sense of taste but has become associated with food we don’t immediately want to spit out, hence “palatable”. A palette is a kidney-shaped piece of wood on which an artist mixes paint. A pallet is a slatted wooden packing case.
Do not be afraid of these homophones; there’s a really easy way to conquer them. Just think of the parrot who enjoyed pecking at crates full of art equipment. He had a palate for pallets of palettes.