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July 14, 2014
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Mother Tongue, Mother Lode

Photo by Ross Brinkerhoff


But a more haphazard approach can also yield gems. One of my all-time favorite finds is peek, peak and pique (and recently I was in quite a pique when I read a book set in the Rockies that confused the first two). Another copyediting error highlighted a homophone pair that let me locate a trio. My jaw dropped when I spotted idol, idle and idyll.

Pity the poor adults who learn English as a second language. How can they possibly hope to master all the inconsistent spellings and pronunciations our language throws at them? It was hard enough for me, a native speaker, when we were studying homophones. I asked how you could tell whether the speaker meant where or wear.

And Mrs. Haycock simply replied, “Context.” A fine Middle English word.