Few of us can afford to be complacent about this rich and savory stew we call English. Glorious language that it is and an essential instrument which we use every day, the way it goes together is sometimes downright baffling--a literary minefield. That's because there are everyday words which sound or look alike but mean very different things.
And there are times in life when you really don't want to write the incorrect word. Or read the wrong meaning. It can get you into deep trouble. Use your imagination and guess how things could go horribly amiss if you make the incorrect choice between accede/exceed,
ALTAR/ALTER or coarse/course.
Alas, these are look-alike or sound-alike words which have meanings so different you may end up sending or receiving precisely the wrong message. In the office. In that deeply personal letter. Oh dear!
When you choose the wrong word, or spell a word in a way which gives it the wrong meaning, one of two things happens. Your reader takes the wrong meaning: confusion, giggles, irritation or fury may follow. Or, your reader considers the context and figures out what you really meant, then draws some unflattering conclusions about you.
And don't think your spellchecker will bail you out. It will just smile and approve your choice because it likes all those tricky words.
That's the bad news. The good news is that there are not that many minefield words. And the better news is that this little booklet captures most, perhaps all of them, and sorts them for you. It's small enough to keep handy and it just may save your love life or your reputation with the boss. Be grateful. Deborah Wright, the people's editor, rides to our rescue once again.