Be discreet with discrete meanings of homonyms

Homonyms are words that sound alike but have different meanings and spellings.

They also are an embarrassment for professional journalists who should 1) know the difference or 2) know enough to know they don't know the difference.

Mose argues that the misuse of homonyms is often a result of a reading-deprived background – one in which a person grew up hearing the words but having never seen them in written text. Of course, carelessness sometimes is the cause.

Maybe the most commonly confused homonyms arecomplementandcompliment, withledandleada close second, andfazeandphasea distant third. But those are used often enough that writers and editors should never get them wrong.

In his daily reading and editing chores, Mose has recently seen some not-so-commonly used homonyms that escaped into the wild. Mose was able to corral them before they trampled the public (presented in the order in which Mose encountered them in copy):

teamvs.teem– The football squad is ateam; the more obscureteemis a verb that usually meansto be fullorto swarm(e.g., a riverteemingwith fish), though it can meanto bear offspring, orto pour(e.g., ateemingrain).

leanvs.lien– Legally speaking, alienis a claim placed on an asset. Folks who don't pay their property taxes might find alienhas been placed on their home, making them unable to sell or transfer the real estate until the taxes are paid.Leancan be an adjective (aleancut of beef) or a verb (leanon me, figuratively speaking).

loanvs.lone– A sole (not soul) bidder was described in copy as a “loan bidder,” which sounded as if a lender were submitting a competitive offer. But that actually was the only bidder – aloneoffer was received. Think the Lone Ranger – the last man standing.

balevs.bail– Language from the farm can be confusing for us non-aggies. Abaleis a large bundle;bailis what you post to get your drunken uncle released from jail. Cotton and hay arebaled. Water isbailedfrom a boat. Also look out forsewvs.sow; the latter is for seeding.

discreetvs.discrete– To bediscreetisto be careful or diplomatic.Discreteis an adjective that meansseparate and districtorunrelated.

The more you read, the more you see. The more you see, the more you know.

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