Your Knot Write

Your Knot WriteA long time ago (at least in internet time) I did a post on homonym or homophone errors titled Watt Due Ewe Mien. We all know the most common errors and hopefully look for them when we’re proofing our own work. Most of us have words and phrases in our vocabulary we use less often than the heavy hitters like their, there, and they’re that we know (or think we know) how to say, but have trouble getting them right in our writing. (Or should that be write in our righting?) My own personal bugaboo is sale and sell. You’ve probably identified some of your own. Or maybe you haven’t. What I’m going to cover here are semi-common words and phrases I see wrong more often than I’d expect and a bit of discussion about each. I’ve seen all of these make it past the author’s self-editing and whatever editors, proofreaders, and beta readers assisted them to land smack dab in the middle of a book. Multiple times. Hopefully this will help you avoid these same mistakes. In each I’ll list the wrong usage first, the correct one last.

Loose vs Lose
I’m not sure why this one is so hard. One internet forum for poker players I frequented, it was so common I decided it was a hatred of the word lose (what happens if you don’t win or if you misplace something). I’m not sure I’ve ever seen someone write lose when they meant loose (what something is if it isn’t tight). Indie authors aren’t as prone to this error as poker players, but it’s still a common error.

Straight Jacket vs Strait Jacket
While one of these may prevent you from bending and contorting, making you straighter than normal, this kind of jacket is referring to one of the definitions of strait meaning closely fitting or limited in space. Multiple dictionaries describe that definition as archaic usage, possibly part of the problem people have in getting it correct. If you’re wearing one you might also be in dire straits, a phrase I don’t believe I’ve ever seen incorrectly rendered as dire straights. I suspect we can thank Mark Knopler for that. Country singer George doesn’t figure into this discussion at all.

All of the sudden vs All of a sudden
The only theory I have for this one is that people hear it wrong and write what they hear. If they actually considered the words, it’s obvious. Isn’t it? Nevertheless, I’ve seen this one more than once. Go figure.

Reign in vs Rein in
People who pay more attention to Kings, Queens, and CEOs than horses might be forgiven for getting this wrong. The expression rein in comes from horses, not ruling kingdoms. Tight reign rather than tight rein is another one people get wrong for the same reason.

Waive vs wave
Lawyers, bankers, and the rest of us understand that the first is to abandon or give something up. And we all know which breaks over the beach or where we can ride surfboards. So tell me, which most closely resembles what you do with your hands to say hello or get someone’s attention? If I took what I’ve read literally, my book collection has more one-armed men than all the episodes of The Fugitive.

Lead vs Led (vs Lead?)
The first is what you can do with a horse before he turns down your offer to buy him a drink. The second is the past of the first. The third, spelled like the first, pronounced like the second, is a metal or the kind of foot Kat Brooks is rumored to have. I have no trouble understanding how this one happens. In fact, I’m not sure I don’t have the first and third listed in the wrong place.

Peace vs Piece
Normally this doesn’t cause problems. The first is not war, the second less than the whole (except, as George Carlin pointed out, crumbs are an exception). Where they get confused is in variations of the phrase to say your piece. Best way to remember this? Saying your piece is unlikely to cause peace.

Phase vs Faze
The first describes stages or changes something goes through, like the phases of the moon. The second is “to cause to be disturbed or disconcerted,” although I’m not sure I’ve ever heard or seen this without a not or wasn’t in front of it. Saying he wasn’t phased means he didn’t change, but it is still the wrong word.

I’ll bet you’ve seen others. Use them incorrectly in the comments and make me cringe.

Author: Big Al

Big Al (who insists he only has one name, like Cher, Sting, and Madonna) spends his days writing computer programs that are full of typos, homonym errors, and incorrect verb usage. During his evenings, he writes reviews of indie books for BigAl’s Books and Pals and has recently taken over The IndieView, a website founded by indie author Simon Royle as a resource for indie authors, indie reviewers, and those who read either.

47 thoughts on “Your Knot Write”

    1. Thanks, Yvonne. I sometimes find myself making these mistakes, too. Even those I find the most cringe-worthy when I’m reading. Hopefully I catch them when I proof. I’m constantly editing them out of comments on Facebook, 🙂

  1. Grate post, Al! 🙂 I see the confusion between loose and lose all the time, unfortunately. Another that lots of people seem to have trouble with are confusing its and it’s. I think, because most of the time a possessive (Al’s, the book’s, the reviewer’s) has an apostrophe, many think the possessive of the pronoun does, too, but its is like his or hers. And yes, I cringe every time I see it. Excellent reminders and memory devices!

  2. Great reminders, Al. I’ll throw in another one: base vs. bass. I know correct usage, but for some reason my fingers don’t always type the correct word. Just the other day I discovered I’d written about a “base” voice and had to go correct it.

  3. I admit to not being able to rein in my misuse of reign. But I fixed it. Therein lies the beauty of being an indie author. When you find out you messed up, you edit and republish. Thank goodness for editors, the lead, led, lead is as confusing as lay, lie, laid…

    1. That is definitely one of the beauties of being indie, Julie. Thanks for the comment. BTW, I enjoyed my visit to your great city, but it sure got cold at night this year. I’ve visited the last weekend of July for the last 7 or 8 years and think this was the coldest I’ve seen.

        1. Wow. That is hot. I heard a rumor it was the same here yesterday, 700 miles south, and that’s hot for us, too.

  4. “Who” vs. “Whom”, has to be one of the all time worst offenders. “Will” vs” “Shall” are also in the running. Particularly for Fantasy or Period-piece writers.

  5. I agree in principal, but as a principle official that is the grantee of large principle sums to numerous grantors it’s really attorneys that get excited when the mortgagee and mortgagor are confused.

  6. Thanks for all the comments. I internet access thru the weekend, but will respond in more depth next week

  7. This pair doesn’t strictly fit here, because one of them isn’t a recognized word, but it’s used often enough to drive me nuts. Orientate and orient. I suspect the confusion comes from orient the noun (meaning the east) and orient the verb meaning to find direction. The proper noun form of the latter is orientation, which leads some to create the verb orientate. It’s useful if you want to make a character sound pretentious, but I see and hear it used without that intent.

      1. UGH! That “word” – I won’t even write it – it drives me crazy!

        Yet another good reason hockey players and other professional athletes should never be interviewed or allowed to speak in public. Sadly, many politicians and other public figures fall into this category too. We have our fair share north of the border too, but a certain ‘W’ was the most egregious example. Unfortunately their poor grammar and syntax set a standard to which far too many sink.

    1. OED gives both as legitimate verb forms (not one being an alternative of the other, but each having a separate entry with the same base meaning). Is this just British English and American English having evolved their own common accepted usages?

      1. That one bothers me, too, Armen. However, the first time I saw it I checked it and discovered what Alan says.

        My suspicion is it is a British versus American English issue. It might even be considered valid in both forms, but orientate isn’t commonly used by native speakers of American English. I stumble onto examples of that all the time.

  8. All of these are great, Al. And let me add “sliver and slither,” which I’ve noticed more and more of late, and which always makes me laugh.

    But I do have to take you to task only slightly on straitjacket/straightjacket. First of all, it’s usually a closed compound, but the main dictionaries (M-W, Oxford, a couple others I checked) tend to prefer “straitjacket” as their primary definition, but note “straightjacket” as a variant. I have a feeling the general (non-dictionary) confusion has followed that of “strait-laced,” which almost everyone now spells “straight-laced.”

    This word nerd enjoyed this post, though. 🙂

    1. Thanks, David. You’re correct, it should be a compound word. Can you start editing my posts. I could have sworn I verified that. Obviously I didn’t. 🙂

      It sounds like this is an example of English evolving, sometimes to make what was previously considered an error to be correct. Irregardless of whether it was before. (Yes, I did that on purpose. Did you cringe? )

    1. Thanks, AC. I can see how rein and reign are confused when part of a saying because either one could seem to fit.

      1. Yes! They’re not mutually exclusive. I try to remember that a monarch can rein in her populace during the course of her reign.

  9. In video game communities one of the biggest issues I have seen is people who don’t know the difference between a rogue or rouge. It seems like a strange one to confuse but not all rogues wear rouge when they rob you.

  10. I just finished an indie novel that was very grammar-clean except for two repeated issues: break for brake and its with a possessive apostrophe–its’ Now that one made my scalp prickle!

    Yes, David. The English/American nuanced differences are more frequent that you’d think. I was raised in the UK but write in American-English, and there are dozens of ‘slightly’ different meanings often for the same words–obvious to an American reader, but to me not so much. To name a few: round and around (often interchangeable in the UK), in and into (ditto), scheme and, well, scheme (there’s no evil connotation in the UK), rubbish and nonsense (synonyms) and many more.

    Such is the cross I bear, but after living here for so long, I’d have zero chance of writing in English.

    1. I once had to explain to my British boss that, when you visit a friend in the U.S., you do not “knock her up”, although if you call on the phone, you may “ring her up”.

      1. Ha ha, I love this stuff. I very nearly told someone I’d knock her up in the morning, but I remembered at the last minute another expat warning me about that one. Didn’t stop me making a couple embarrassing faux pas involving a UK word for cigarette and the UK word for an eraser.

        Works the other way too, to be fair. If you’re American, don’t ever say to a Brit that you fell on your fanny, unless you want them to think you’re a contortionist. 😉

        1. ha! the word for cigarette was once American, as well, and I knew about erasers, but I had to look up fanny.

          1. Thanks for the comment, Pete (and busby777). It looks like you generated some discussion. This makes me wonder and I’ll bet David has the answer. Can you knock someone up in the morning in Canada without causing offense? It seems that Canadian English is a mix of the British and American flavors (or flavours, if you prefer).

    2. You’re absolutely right, Al. We use American punctuation and some British spellings (but not all). And to knock someone up in Canada would take the US meaning, but it would cause offence and not offense! lol

    1. I keep hearing the news clowns saying “flaunt”, when they mean “flout”.

    2. Oh, good ones, yes. And you know, as much as the writer gets flak for this (or flack?), the editor is the one we need to focus on. They’re paid to do this job, since many excellent writers are not grammarians or even particularly good spellers.

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