When writers, amateurs and professionals alike, employ words or phrases they have heard spoken but not seen written, they often mistakenly use a homophone or near homophone of the intended word. Each of the sentences below includes a word that is often used erroneously. A discussion and revision accompanies each example.
1. Given punk rock’s innate tendency to flaunt convention, the style fits the subject matter in its own roughshod sort of way.
Flaunt, a verb meaning “show off,” is frequently confused for flout, a verb meaning “show disregard for”: “Given punk rock’s innate tendency to flout convention, the style fits the subject matter in its own roughshod sort of way.”
2. Others honed in on what they consider the company’s poor customer service and monopolistic tendencies.
Hone means “sharpen” or “make more effective,” but what is meant here is home, as a verb meaning “proceed” or “direct attention toward”: “Others homed in on what they consider the company’s poor customer service and monopolistic tendencies.”
3. She had been the principle trial attorney for the public defender’s office.
Both principle and principal derive from the Latin term princeps, meaning “prince” (the Latin word is also the origin of prince), but principle serves only as a noun, while principal, which can be a noun that refers to a key or leading person or to an amount of money, is also an adjective meaning “most important,” as in this sentence: “She had been the principal trial attorney for the public defender’s office.”
4. They were fulfilling a central tenant of the democracy envisioned by our founders.
Though tenant and tenet both stem from the same Latin word, tenere, meaning “hold,” the former refers to someone who rents or leases property, while the latter, meaning “principle,” is the correct choice for this sentence: “They were fulfilling a central tenet of the democracy envisioned by our founders.”
5. Her deep-seeded resentment erupted one day in a spontaneous burst of indignation.
“Deep seeded” seems to make sense in a reference to an emotion that is submerged in someone’s psyche, but there is no such idiom; the correct phrase is “deep seated”: “Her deep-seated resentment erupted one day in a spontaneous burst of indignation.”