In writing the other day about our trip up the coast I said that in Carpenteria my wife and I ate lunch in a restaurant that offered a free desert if you weren't served in 10 minutes; we lost, I said, but my wife had a cream pie anyway.
As several readers have pointed out, with various degrees of sarcasm, desert should have been spelled dessert .
My wife was the first to point it out. She said, "You misspelled dessert."
I did not have to ask how I had misspelled it. I have made that same error before.
"If you and your wife had won the desert," writes Judy Carr of Santa Monica, "would you have chosen the Mojave, the Sahara, or what? Seriously, I'm disappointed and disillusioned that \o7 your \f7 proofreaders could make such a mistake."
My proofreaders did not make the mistake. I did. They merely overlooked it.
I always try to capitalize on my errors, and in this instance, having sinned myself, I feel free to point out that this kind of error--the use of a homonym or homophone for the word meant--is the most common error to be found in the pages of this newspaper, or any other.
A homonym is a word that is pronounced and spelled like another, but has a different meaning and a different origin: A common example: a \o7 pitch \f7 in baseball; black as \o7 pitch\f7 .
A homophone, which is the more common error, is a word that is pronounced like another but has a different spelling, origin and meaning. For example: \o7 to, too, \f7 and \o7 two\f7 . Also, a Mozart \o7 piece\f7 , and a lasting \o7 peace\f7 .
Believe it or not, I have read in The Times "some things no not the bounds of time" (in an ad); "his books have also peaked an interest"; "to tow the line"; "straight jacket"; "pouring over Bob Horner's batting average"; "stretch taught over cake"; "when we got their"; "you're emotions just take you away"; plus "quaffed" for "coiffed," "phase" for "faze," "kneed (of bread) for knead"; and "in vein" for "in vain."
Those are just the tip of the iceberg. You can find two or three in every issue.
To give this kind of error a name, I coin the word \o7 homonymaly\f7 , since \o7 homonym \f7 is used loosely to include \o7 homophone\f7 . In fact, my \o7 desert \f7 was not a homonym for \o7 desert\f7 --an arid wasteland--as suggested by Judy Carr and others, because the two words are pronounced differently. The \o7 desert \f7 that sounds like \o7 dessert \f7 is a verb meaning to abandon, or a noun meaning one's just reward. So my spelling (\o7 desert\f7 was a homophone for the word I wanted (\o7 dessert\f7 ). It had the same sound as the word I wanted but a different spelling. (A homograph, to go further, is a word that is spelled like another but has a different origin and pronunciation (\o7 wind-wind\f7 ).
In fact, to punish myself still further, I must recall that a year or so ago, when writing about the Ojai Valley, I said that "the sun shown down." For that I do not expect to be forgiven, ever. Public scorn is my just desert (not \o7 dessert\f7 ).
Thanks to its author, Dora Newhouse, I have an extraordinary book called "The Encyclopedia of Homonyms (sound-alikes)," which represents a prodigious effort. Newhouse defines both homonyms and homophones as words that are pronounced alike but are different in meaning and usually in spelling.
In an epilogue, Newhouse notes that she did this work because, in teaching English as a Second Language, she received post cards from her pupils that said, "I am going to camp in too days," "There barber cut my hare to short and made me bawled," and "Fore quartz make a gallon."
"It was hard for me to believe," she says, "there was not a single reference book devoted to these misspelled, mispronounced, troublesome, tricky and confusing word plagues."
There may of course be more than two homonyms--\o7 to, too\f7 and \o7 two\f7 being one example. Don Pflueger of Claremont sends me another, from Ray Billington's "Limericks--Historical and Hysterical."
\o7 All the lady gnus at the zoo,
Were charmed by a young male gnu.
The old bull was distressed
To be thus dispossessed
By the tricks that the new gnu knew\f7
Isn't that a pistil?