Pesky Words (Homophones) – Taught and Taut

Regardless of how good we are at writing, spelling and grammar we all have words that catch us out. During my time as a social worker I spent a lot of time typing the word ‘appropriate’ in assessments, court statements and reports and it was the one word I ALWAYS had to revisit. It regularly caught me out due to miss typing the ‘iat’. The fact that the spellchecker in Word picked it up made my life easier. There are, however, words that the spellchecker will miss.

In this series of blog posts I will highlight some of the regularly misspelt words that I come across while proofreading. Quite often these words are the ones that belong in the group called homophones.

So, what is a homophone? The Oxford English Dictionary describes a homophone as:

 

Homophone/ n.1 each of two or more words having the same pronounciation

but different meanings, origins, or spelling (e.g. new and knew). 2 a symbol denoting the same sound as another.

 

These pesky little blighters can cause trouble in your manuscript. Given that they mean different things but can be spelled correctly your spellchecker may well miss them out.

By highlighting some of the common homophones that are used incorrectly, I hope to make your writing life a little easier and alert you to the pesky words to look out for.

Two words that often catch people out are ‘taught’ and ‘taut’. I regularly have to correct these words while proofreading – particularly when ‘taut’ is the correct meaning – and I have even come across the use of ‘taught’ when it should have been ‘taut’ in a quote on the back of an ARC.

‘Taught’ is the past and past participle of ‘teach’ which means:

 

v. (past and past part. taught) 1 impart knowledge to or instruct (someone)

in how to do something, especially in a school or as part of a recognized programme.

*give instruction in (subject or skill). *cause to learn by example or

Experience. 2 advocate as a practice or principle.¹

 

‘Taut’, however, means something completely different:

 

adj. 1 stretched or pulled tight. *(of muscles or nerves) tense.

2 (of writing, music, etc.) concise and controlled. 3 (of a ship) having a

disciplined crew.¹

 

Using the incorrect word can change the whole meaning of what you are trying to say and undermine your writing and message. More often than not it is done inadvertently. When we are typing quickly, our fingers will automatically go to the keys we regularly use which can result in ‘taught’ being typed instead of ‘taut’ and vice versa. It can end up being unintentionally left in your work if the spellchecker misses it and it is then overlooked when you are reading. Missing things when reading your own work occurs due to over-familiarity and it happens to us all. One of my jobs as a proofreader is to ensure that the correct word is used in the right place.

Are there any words  that catch you out or that you struggle with? I would love to hear from you.


 

¹ Stevenson, A. and Waite, M. 2011, Concise Oxford English Dictionary, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1911

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