To be honest, I just wanted to find an excuse to use the word discombobulate. It’s great, isn’t it? But not one we use every day, so just to be clear, it means to confuse, befuddle, or perplex. I’ve decided it’s being added to my daily vocab from now on. Thinking about a confusing word that means to confuse got me thinking about other confusing words, naturally, and just how many examples of similar words there are in the English language that are often confused.
An example of this is macaron and macaroon, and how the two words are used interchangeably but mean two quite different things. The first being a very sweet, brightly coloured almond meringue type biscuit, and the second being an eggy, coconutty cakey thing which for me are synonymous with Christmas markets and are totally heavenly. See also, pacific and specific, affect and effect, desert and dessert, passed and past and stationary and stationery, amongst many others.
Affect /effect I find hard to explain. I know when the right word should be used but couldn’t explain the theory to a non-native English speaker. Desert/dessert is one we see so often. It is an easy mistake to make but being given a desert menu in a restaurant really isn’t all that appealing. And I have to think twice when I need to explain that something isn’t moving. Is it stationary or stationery? I’ve learnt that the way to remember the difference is to think of a stationer’s shop. That’s where you buy stationery, therefore I need the word stationary.
The problem and the beauty of the English language is that is it a complete mish-mash of other languages. We adopt words from other languages and adapt them for our use. It makes the language rich and varied but it means that what you think might be the root of a word just isn’t, the rules of verb tenses are often broken, and there are many words that sound the same or are spelt the same but have different meanings. Phew. It’s enough to make anyone give up and learn Klingon instead.
What are your thoughts on confusing words? Does the English language have more than its fair share? And are there any mix-ups that really get your goat? And what have goats got to do with anything? They’re probably as discombobulated as us.