“Words have meanings!” A very angry editor emphatically communicated this concept to me many years ago when I misused a word in some advertising copy (turns out that “anxious” and “eager” are not synonyms). His admonition led me to carefully choose my words since that day. A few nuggets of knowledge and wisdom…
Sherbet: The dessert is sher-BET not sher-BERT – there is only one R. I’m on a one-man, life-long crusade to educate English-speaking people regarding this matter. So far I’m not doing well.
Menstrual versus minstrel: Not quite a homophone, but pretty close. And wow, the meanings are totally different! Given a choice, I always prefer stories about minstrels.
Homophone versus homophobe: A homophone is a word that has the same sound as another word but is spelled differently and has a different meaning. A homophobe is… I don’t have to explain that one.
Salmon: The L is silent except when you are referring to the 19th Century Supreme Court Justice, Salmon P. Chase. (Two lessons in one!)
Thongs: When I was a kid the word “thong” referred to a cheap sandal with that thing between your first two toes. The word means something completely different now. So if I mention that I am shopping for thongs, please understand that I’m looking for footwear.
Mother: I once heard about a study in which people were asked to identify the most beautiful word in the English language. The top choice was the word “mother.” I agree.
Cacti: I like this word simply because it is fun to say and nearly everyone knows it is the plural of cactus. Bonus: you can actually purchase neckwear that looks like a cactus and is called a cac-tie.
Male facial hair: A Van Dyke is a mustache-and-goatee combo. Muttonchops are really huge sideburns. A soul patch is a small growth of hair below the lower lip, not on the chin where it becomes a goatee. A Fu Manchu is a mustache for guys who are trying too hard to look macho.
Spelunker: one who explores caves. Comes from the Latin root word “spelunca” which means cave or cavern. Always seemed like such a weird word to me. I try to use it in conversation whenever I can.
Love: one of the two most misused words in the English language. I like football; I love my grandkids. I also love chocolate, but I don’t love it more than my grandchildren. Hmmm, wait a minute… no, that’s right, grandkids come first.
Art: The other most misused word in the English language. Art as an adjective is meaningless unless two people agree… and I am one of the two people.
Words and phrases that most dudes typically don’t understand: trivet, charger, Pashmina, duvet and “I was wrong.”
Words and phrases that most women don’t understand: Allen wrench, Stillson wrench, torque, nickel defense and “I was wrong.”
Cool: A slang word that never goes out of style. It’s etymology as slang dates at least to the 1920s and perhaps earlier. The word cool is still cool, though like art it is meaningless as an adjective unless two people agree… and I am one of the two people.
Anxious versus eager: I am eager to go to the Grizzlies game. I am anxious around grizzlies. I am sometimes anxious about the Grizzlies, but I am always eager to see them play.
Are we clear?