4 Perennially Misused Words

By Maeve Maddox

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Some word pairs will probably always continue to be confused. Here are five such, all of which have been mentioned on this site in the past. The examples in this post date from recent months.

pore: (verb) to examine closely
Confused with pour: (verb) to transfer water or some other substance from a container.

[Agents continue] to pour through the roughly 11,000 documents the FBI had obtained in its search. —CNN

In fact, the agents continued to pore through the documents.

rite: (noun) A prescribed act or observance in a religious or other solemn ceremony; a custom, habit, or communal practice.

Confused with right: (noun) Legal, moral, or natural entitlement.

The error occurs with the expression “rite of passage.” The term originated in the terminology of cultural anthropology to refer to such coming-of-age ceremonies such as the Bullet Ant ritual of Brazil and the face-tattooing of Inuit women.

The term now encompasses such adolescent life events as obtaining a driver’s license and graduating from high school.

The following quotation is from a comment about a locality where schools are closed on the first day of the hunting season so that children can accompany adults to the woods.

It was a tradition that became a right of passage for many.

In fact, the event was a rite of passage.

desert: (noun) Something worthy of recompense, either reward or punishment.
Confused with dessert: (noun) the last course of a meal.

Three English words are spelled desert, but they are not all pronounced the same:
desert: [DEZ-ert] (noun) an arid place
desert: [deh-ZERT] (verb) to abandon.
desert: [deh-ZERT] (noun) worthiness of recompense.

The error occurs with the expression “just deserts.”

Sadly it took all the years for Mr. Jones to get his just desserts.

Mr. Jones got his just deserts.

hardy: (adjective) Of a person or animal: capable of enduring fatigue, hardship, or adverse conditions; physically robust; healthy.

Confused with hearty: (adjective) Of a person: of kindly sentiment or goodwill; showing warmth of affection or friendly feeling; cordial, kind-hearted, genial. Of food or drink: rich or abundant so as to satisfy the appetite; nourishing, wholesome, strengthening.

The error occurs when the context refers to a situation in which the ability to endure hardship is understood.

But in the late 1700s, Catherine the Great, the Russian empress, colonized it [a wild part of Ukraine] with hearty souls from across the empire. —New York Times

Those folks may well have been hearty, but, considering the environment, they first had to be hardy.

brooch: (noun) an ornamental fastening, consisting of a safety pin with the clasping part fashioned into a ring, boss, shield, or other device of precious metal or other material, artistically wrought, set with jewels, etc.

Confused with broach. The word with this spelling has two denotations.

broach: (verb) to pierce a container so as to draw the liquor; to tap.
broach: (noun) a tapering pointed instrument; such a thing used for roasting meat upon; a spit.

Both vowel spellings [oo and oa] are pronounced as long o.

Princess Charlotte “wore a black hat and small horseshoe broach on her dress” —Washington Post

The princess wore a brooch.

Related posts
Here are links to previous mentions and discussions of these words. The readers’comments make interesting reading.

Poring over pore and pour
rite of passage
just deserts
hardy/hearty
brooch/broach


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2 Responses to “4 Perennially Misused Words”

  • venqax

    Brooch and broach — Very good choice.

    enormity vs enormousness — I doubt the enormity of the piece of construction equipment is really an issue.

    rein vs reign– as in “we have to reign in these costs”. No. You don’t.

    You also probably don’t have enough canvas to do the whole neighborhood, but that doesn’t come up as much.

  • Tony Collman

    Never heard of poring through documents, only over them.

    Desert is cognate with deserve. Desert: that which is deserved.

    Of course, there are also rights of passage: namely, the right to pass across a certain piece of land.

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