confusing words

Fun With Homonyms

Brain Candy by Scott Kim
New Media Magazine, August, 1999

1. I saw a big, brown ______ in the forest ______ his teeth.

2. Of ______ my beard is ______ — I haven’t shaved!

3. Next time you ______ me an e-mail, please use the ______ address!

4. I can’t believe I ______ ______ whole pies!

5. When you get back to your car, you will ______ that you were ______ for illegal parking.

6. All of ______ cars are parked over ______ .

7. A bird ______ up the chimney ______ .

8. “Perhaps you shouldn’t have ______ the note to a balloon,” he said with great ______ .

9. To finance the state ______ building took a lot of ______ .

10. The ______ of Egypt went to the art gallery to buy ______ of Egypt.

11. I ______ the idea of square tires has ______ future.

12. I ______ up my ______ with buttons, not zippers.

Why English is so hard to learn

The bandage was wound around the wound.

The farm was used to produce produce.

The dump was so full that it had to refuse more refuse.

We must polish the Polish furniture.

He could lead if he would get the lead out.

The soldier decided to desert his dessert in the desert.

Since there is no time like the present, he thought it was time to present the present.

A bass was painted on the head of the bass drum.

When shot at, the dove dove into the bushes.

I did not object to the object.

The insurance was invalid for the invalid.

There was a row among the oarsmen about how to row.

They were too close to the door to close it.

The buck does funny things when the does are present.

A seamstress and a sewer fell down into a sewer line.

To help with planting, the farmer taught his sow to sow.

The wind was too strong to wind the sail.

After a number of injections my jaw got number.

Upon seeing the tear in the painting I shed a tear.

I had to subject the subject to a series of tests.

How can I intimate this to my most intimate friend?

Confusing Words

In 1990 my wife Anne came home from school and asked me if there was an easy way to collect the words that her students confused so that they might refer to their own lists on their own computers.

I put the question back to Anne: if you had such a list, what kinds of information about the confused words should be included, and how should the information look? I asked her to come up with some examples, the first few of which were effect and affect and there, their, and they’re.

We decided that we needed to show each set of confusables together so that an easy comparison could be made. We also thought that the list would include more confusables than just homonyms, words like aggravate and irritate, and good and well.

Each set of confusables would need:

– the two or more confused words

– definitions of each of the confused words

– multiple examples of usage in sentences of the confused words

Anne started collecting words, writing definitions, coming up with examples, and stored her collection in a text file until I could come up with another way.

My job was to think about how the information could be most accessible to writers using conventional word processing software like MS Word or AppleWorks (ClarisWorks back then).

A few things to consider in looking at the history of this project:

– We were (and still are) Macintosh users and the schools we were both working with were using Macs as well.

– I had little experience with databases, although FileMaker and others were out at the time.

– I had a lot of experience with HyperCard, the first user-friendly multimedia development tool, and even though its products only ran on the Macintosh, cross platform development wasn’t a concern since the audience we were building this for was mainly Mac users who could run HyperCard programs.

– There was no web at the time, and the idea of putting information like this online and having people use an online tool was unheard of except in the mainframe computer world.

So, I built a HyperCard “stack” that included:

– a field to hold the confused words

– a field to hold the definitions

– a field to hold examples of usage.

In time, Anne and I finished the stack and sold it as shareware for many years. It did well and thousands of people bought and hopefully used it. (Hopefully is correct if our users were hopeful about becoming less confused.)

Here’s a screen shot of an entry:


Many things have changed in the computer world since Anne and I first started thinking about this:

– The Macintosh has been marginalized in schools

– The HyperCard project died at Apple

– We have mixed feelings about making and buying shrink-wrapped reference software because it’s out of date almost immediately

– The web has evolved into an important part of using a computer as a tool

– We know how to build web sites

So, we put Confusing Words on the web where it existed for many years. The code and site became out of date over time and we lost interest and so, we took it down and let the domain go. It was a great run and we learned a lot, both in building the HyperCard stack and in building the web site.