“Penpointing” and Other Near-Misses in the Media

By Maeve Maddox

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Penpointing for pinpointing
In my part of the world, many speakers have a hard time hearing the difference between the vowel sounds in pen (rhymes with Ben) and pin (rhymes with sin). The usual reversal is to pronounce pen as pin—not the other way round. For that reason, I was puzzled when I started finding examples of the spelling penpointing.

I had a hard time penpointing the problem. (automotive site)

This particular text is penpointing the character of Abraham. . . (Bible site)

Sharkman tried to use his senses to locate his enemy. . . but for some reason, he was being blocked out of penpointing the exact location. (gaming site)

In each of these examples, the word should be pinpointing.

pinpoint (verb): to find or locate exactly, especially on a map or chart.

I did find one intended “penpointing.”

The PenPointing achievement in Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller worth 15 points.

It took some digging, but I learned that the reference is to an “episodic point-and-click graphic adventure game.” The player attempts to “place the pen in all possible places.” The “pen” in this context seems to be something called a “pen mouse” which works like a mouse, but is shaped like a pen.

Throws for throes
Plenty of language sites, including this one, do their best to explain the difference between throe and throw, but I guess they can’t reach everyone. Although sports writers sometimes deliberately use throws for throes for humorous effect, the following examples are simply incorrect.

Though the country remains in the throws of numerous crises . . . (Vanity Fair)

It was in the throws of heartbreak that I began to learn about myself… (Medium)

While we are still in the throws of the current Covid-19 pandemic, the senior center continues to be open by appointment or reservation only. (Clinton, MA government site)

The desired expression is in the throes of, not in the throws of.

throe (noun): an intense spasm of pain experienced during labor; a uterine contraction; (also, in plural) the pain and effort of labor or childbirth.

Ruckus for raucous
Both words do connote something noisy, but ruckus is a noun and raucous is an adjective.

ruckus (noun): an uproar, a disturbance; a row, a quarrel; fuss, commotion.

The locals apparently complained about the ruckus from all the celebrity hoopla.
The ruckus had gone on long enough that Deborah thought they should call the police.

raucous (adjective): of a sound, especially, a person’s voice: hoarse, rough; loud and harsh.

A Muni bus is set afire by raucous crowds after the Giants win the World Series
Walking near his farm in Bampton Grange, Peter Allen hears a crow’s raucous caw.

The following examples illustrate the confusion that exists in the minds of some writers.

I dream that in heaven Ms. Fanny Lou Hamer conspires with Ms. Ruth
And oh the raucous that they raise! (lines from a poem on the publishing platform Medium)

. . . after a while, you stop counting the chances, and you start listening to the music created by the raucous that is your life. (Medium)

The raucous that was the Iowa Caucus… (Apple podcasts)

Less than an hour later, the fire department revealed that the raucous was caused by a homeless woman who unwittingly caused an explosion by using propane gas in her tent. (Daily Mail, 18 January 2021)

NOTE: In a later posting, the Mail changed raucous to chaos, but raucous remains on sites that copied the original account.

In each case, the writer was reaching for the noun ruckus.

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