9 Sound-Alike Words You Didn't Know You Were Screwing Up

After writing an article on words people mix up with other words and another article on words people mix up with other words, I've come to realize that all that was only the tip of the icebox.

Haha! Iceberg. That was a freebie to see if you were paying attention. Anyway, rotting deep in the back of the refrigerator of common word usage are even more suspicious-looking Tupperwares full of mixed-up words. Here's a few more choice delicacies.


Mantle / Mantel


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A mantel is the shelf above your fireplace, whereas a mantle is a cloak, or possibly a layer of the Earth. I also wouldn't recommend drilling a hole beneath the Earth's crust and throwing photos of your loved ones into a rock layer with a minimum temperature of 500 degrees Celsius, because they might take it the wrong way.

By Ewalde1, via Wikimedia Commons
And if you hate your family, why half-ass it? Shoot those photos straight to the core.

It's pretty good stuff when they screw it up the other way around, too:


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Can't you just picture Mitt Romney throwing his glove down, ripping that solid block of Italian marble away from the still-burning fireplace and hoisting it above his head with a primal roar as he claims his rightful place as the party's nominee? Yeah, I can't, either.

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Wreak / Reek

Reeking havoc?

"Wreak" is a somewhat archaic word that nowadays, like a paranoid old person, refuses to go out of the house without its partner, "havoc." That might be why so many people are unfamiliar with it and decide to sub in "reek" instead, which of course means "stink."

As pictured above, sometimes storms are known to "reek havoc."

Canyon News

Out of all the things that reek so mightily that the result is described as "havoc," many of them are football players, which actually sort of makes sense.



Sidelion Report

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And, also not surprisingly, seafood.


Wreckless / Reckless

So the idea of W's in front of R's really screws people up, I guess, because another often silly mix-up involves the common word "reckless," which means "having no regard for the consequences." Sometimes people like to add a W for some reason.


This is a particularly good mix-up, since you get pretty much the opposite meaning. You get these bizarre scenarios where the cops put people in jail for not causing any accidents. This is a society where everyone with a driver's license is required to get into X number of accidents a year or they forfeit their right to drive. And you know why? Because who needs some self-righteous pricks who've never gotten into an accident driving around, thinking they're better than us, huh? Look at Mr. Hands-So-Clean, thinks he's so great just because he's never slammed into a bus full of children. Well, now he has to, so he can stop looking down his nose at us.

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In this universe, it's downright dangerous to drive so safely.

NBC Los Angeles

Wreckless driving causes accidents because people get so pissed off at snooty Sir Drives-So-Well that they have to ram his car, and who can blame them? The only way to prevent accidents is to cause them, and I don't know how anyone can argue with that.

And finally, an example from Jamaica ...

Jamaica Observer

... where police are cracking down on the spotless driving habits of robot ta- wait a minute. Robot taxis? I too was intrigued by the prospect of Jamaican future-cars until I found that in Jamaica, unlicensed taxis are called "robot taxis" for some reason. If you are wondering why, you will have to tune in to my future article, "10 Jamaican Slang Terms Whose Origins I Can't Find Despite a Lot of Internet Searching," which admittedly also won't tell you why, but maybe being able to share your frustration with someone else can be just as good.

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Compliment / Complement


"Compliment" and "complement" are like a pair of mischievous twins from a Shakespeare comedy, causing all kinds of hijinks when they swap places. Often times, people meaning to say that two things "complement" (go well with, or complete) each other end up saying they "compliment" (say nice things about) each other. This is funniest when it involves inanimate objects, as above.

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Civility is not reserved for the hoity-toity world of wine and oysters, however. Even your simple county fair foods have the grace to pay each other their due.


And why should inanimate objects only talk up each other? Everyone's always talking about women needing a boost to their self-image. Why not have talking beauty products to fill that niche?


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"Sassy Crimson?" it says. "That's exactly what I would have suggested for an autumn skin tone! Girl, you a pro!"

And couldn't more manly pursuits use a touch of positive sharing as well? Of course they could.


Athleticism? Strength? Scoring? Bah, the most important thing is that the players on the team make each other feel safe and give them a sense of belonging with constant positive affirmations. Because isn't that what sports are really all about? Being a winner ... on the inside?

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Cord / Chord

Since striking one kind of "cord," like a guitar string, can produce music, it's understandable that some people confuse that with striking a "chord" -- a group of harmonizing notes, and also an expression for making some kind of statement that "harmonizes" with what your audience is feeling. Like telling a group of old people that you don't understand this "rap" nonsense. (They're just talking! They're not even singing! That's lazy!)

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Striking an inanimate cord seems cruel somehow, since it's unlikely the cord has done anything to hurt you. However, "striking a cord" always seems to be brought up as a communal activity, like stoning people to death in the old days, I guess. It helps unite people like the women at the Republican National Convention. (I don't mean to keep bringing up Republicans, but the Democratic convention hasn't happened yet. I can't predict what kind of typos people are going to make about it like some kind of Malapropism Nostradamus.)


For what it's worth, liberals such as Michael Moore also want to see large groups of people strike some poor cord.


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And it looks like women in general are pissed off at that damn cord.


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Farmers and young people come together to raise their hands to the cord as well, and as a bonus, bring back our old friend "tact."


And I would love to see at least one case where there's an indication that this cord abuse is justified, so this one might provide an opening:


"... one that was holding up a child molester above a pit of sharks."

Conscious / Conscience

The conscience, as you probably know, is a small cartoon cricket that gives you a guilt trip when you are about to do something bad. Meanwhile, "conscious" is a psychology term for the portion of your mind you are aware of and in control of; for example, the part of you that decides who to ask on a date, as opposed to the part of you that accidentally calls the date by your previous boyfriend/girlfriend's name and therefore ends the date.

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When you mix them up, you have this glowing description of how Ron Paul refuses to give in to his suppressed desires:


And you also get intriguing pictures like this one:


Clearly a mob of zombies.


An even more apt description of a zombie. And finally, this amazing literary thriller:


I checked to see if he was going for some kind of wordplay here, and if anyone in the book was described as going through events while unaware of their actions or anything like that, but it doesn't seem to be the case. I did find some remarkable writing, however, like this fine sentence:

"It was a dream," she sundered as she spoke, "though at the time, I was confused, and had trouble determining what was real or not."

It took me a while, but I think it's supposed to be "shuddered." As it is, she apparently just broke right in half while talking about her dream. Considering that one of the characters is named "Lenord," and that the address of a real place in the book is "1234 North Park Drive," I give this book five out of five stars and recommend it as a "Must Read."

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Ball / Bawl


The word "bawl" only has one meaning (cry/shout), whereas "ball" as a verb has a number of meanings, one of which is very funny if you are immature. If you are not immature, you go away and sip your chardonnay and listen to jazz, because we gonna get ballin' up in here.

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So without further ado, here are some of our finest examples. For those that involve underage children, I suggest imagining them playing basketball or making a lot of money.



When it comes to the popular phrase "balling one's eyes out," the meaning of "ball" that makes the most sense there is "scooping out," like a melon baller. If you're squeamish, I suggest imagining people who are playing basketball or having sex so enthusiastically that their eyes pop out (metaphorically).




It's entirely possible that a boring wedding or the music of Enrique Iglesias might cause people to want to gouge their eyes out, even though I guess music is not visual, but which of us can be completely logical in the face of extreme distress? I won't throw the first stone.

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Peek / Peak / Pique

In this case, there's actually three commonly used homophones (words that sound alike, not people who are afraid of gays) to confuse people -- "peek" (to glimpse), "peak" (the high point) and "pique" (to annoy or excite).

First of all, I can't discuss this category without giving credit to Stealth Mountain, the Twitter account whose entire self-described goal is:


He sends out an automated (I hope) message saying "I think you mean 'sneak peek'" every time someone tweets "sneak peak." His work goes sorely unappreciated by its recipients.


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Obviously the dude has the market cornered on Twitter "sneak peaks," so in my own humble way, all I can offer up is a "sneak peak" from a major newspaper website.


Meanwhile, since there doesn't seem to be a full-time "pique/peak" spotter, I'll try to fill in that niche briefly.


I believe the meaning here is "My curiosity will never attain this high a level again."

Gauntlet / Gamut

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First of all, let's clear up the little tussle about gauntlet/gantlet. When people talk about "running the gauntlet," they usually are talking about someone running between two rows of people who are beating them with sticks, or a metaphor drawing on that image. Originally the word was "gantlet," with "gauntlet" meaning "glove," as in the one you throw down to start a fight. Even though most people agree that "gauntlet" is an OK alternate spelling of "gantlet" today, some people still pitch a fit about it, so you make your own decisions.

Anyway, one word that "gauntlet" certainly isn't interchangeable with is "gamut," which means "a range or spectrum," and has the misfortune to also be used in a "runs the ___" phrase. So "running the gamut" means to cover a whole range, whereas "running the gauntlet" means to endure a series of blows, and it's not a good idea to swap back and forth between them, as you can see:


There is a lot of unintentional dissing going on here as this author describes a song mix as suffering through the music of MIA, Ms Dynamite (or Dyanmite), Public Enemy and Todd Terry, which just seems cruel and unnecessary.


Meanwhile, this actress endured line after awful line of terrible writing in all kinds of genres.


And this piece of art apparently was created by rolling it down a conveyor belt while tormentors shot various colors of paintball pellets at it. An image that ridiculous would normally make me laugh, but sadly there is probably an art student, well, multiple art students, doing it right now.

So until next time, kids, type safe and drive wrecklessly.

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