Easily Confused Words: Whine vs. Wine vs. Win vs. Why

Whine and wine are homophones and easily confused words. Win and Why are alliterative with whine and wine, I’ll explain why I included them in a moment.

The spell-check application of most word processing software wouldn’t catch a slip-up of whine and wine, and wine and win, because it’s not programmed to do so. It is programmed to look for misspelled words or non-existent words. If it’s a word, and it’s spelled correctly, spell-check will breeze right on by.

Often in US grocery stores, I see ‘punny’ (pun  + funny) cocktail napkins confusing whine, wine, win, and why for comedic effect. They say things like:

  • “Wine A Little” (spoofing Whine A Little)
  • “When Life Gets Complicated I Wine” (spoofing When Life Gets Complicated, I Whine)
  • “Wine Not” (spoofing Why Not)

This brings a smile to the faces of native speakers, but it’s possibly baffling or misleading for non-native speakers.

I thought it would be fun to clarify all these W’s in a blog post.

Whine is a verb, it means to express discontent with one’s circumstances. Put another way, it means to complain or gripe, typically in a self-pitying, overly dramatic manner. For example, a child doesn’t want to do homework, or his/her chores, so he or she protests, that’s whining. When an adult doesn’t want to do their taxes, their lawn, or go to work Monday morning, his or her protestations are also the act of whining.

Wine is a a noun, meaning an alcoholic beverage made from fermented grapes. True, there are grape-based vodkas on the market these days, but these liquors are distilled, which is a different process.

Win is a verb, meaning to achieve victory in a sport, a game, or a situation analogous to a sport or game.  Win can also be a noun, meaning the achievement you scored by winning.

Why is an adverb when it is asked to derive the purpose of an action or activity.

Why can also be a conjunction when a sentence is explaining the purpose of a cause or activity, even though the speaker may not have one, like when Norah Jones sings, “I don’t know why I didn’t come…”

Why can also be a noun, as in the reasons for something, for example, “the whys and hows of the new office procedure.

Here’s a sentence using all these words, including one version of Why correctly.

Don’t ask me why some whine about not winning when they could be winning wine instead. Why, indeed.

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Easily Confused Words: Imminent vs. Eminent

Imminent and Eminent are homophones and easily confused words. The spell-check application of most word processing software would miss an error confusing these two words. Why? Because spell-check is looking for words it doesn’t have in its dictionary, and words that have misplaced letters. If you wrote one word, but actually meant another one, spell-check won’t catch that type of mistake.

Imminent is an adjective, it means an event that could occur at any moment in the immediate future.

Eminent is an adjective that’s used to refer to someone of regal or royal stature in society. When a servant or subject of this person addresses them, they will say “Your Eminence…” or “Your Excellency….” to show reverence. Eminent also carries over to other things having stature or significance, noteworthiness, or remarkable quality.

The following sentence uses both words correctly:

Carter the head butler always said, “We can’t afford to slack off for even one day when a visit from your Eminence is imminent.”

This post relates to another post: Easily Confused Words: Emanate vs. Imminent.

Easily Confused Words: Boarder vs. Border

Boarder and border are homophones and easily confused words.

Boarder is a noun. It means someone staying in a house and eating meals in exchange for rent. It is synonymous with lodger.

Taking in boarders was a customary practice In the aftermath of the Great Depression when many people lost jobs and were traveling to other towns looking for work. It was also customary for single parent families (especially mothers) who didn’t or couldn’t work outside the home but needed extra income to take in a boarder or boarders. The film Hearts in Atlantis, set in the 1950s, feature a boarder character.

Border is also a noun, but it means a legal boundary between cities, counties, provinces, parishes, states, or nations.

The following sentence uses both words correctly:

Farold knew he couldn’t be trailed across the border, so he ran 5 miles into the next county to boarder at a widow’s house for the night.

Easily Confused Words: Bought vs. Bout vs. About vs. Bot

Bought, Bout, and Bot are easily confused words. Bought and Bot are homophones. Bout looks like it would sound like those other two, but its sound is actually “ow!” not aww, so it rhymes with out, lout, shout, kraut.

Bought is a verb, it is the past tense of “to buy.”

Bout is a noun, it is means a case or a situation. Most often, it describes a term of illness: a bout of cancer, a bout of strep throat. “A bout” should not be confused with the preposition “about”. [Here is the States we say “about” for the preposition, but in Canada, it sounds more like “aboot”.]

Bot is a noun, it is slang for “robot.” With the arrival of the internet, “bots” has come to mean programs that automate online tasks like making online ads that automatically appear in response to content, searching for data, or simulating a real person’s social media account are called “bots.”

Here’s an example sentence using all three words correctly:

I was glad I bought meds before my bout with stomach flu, sadly, there’s no bot that can order them, and go pick them up for me after the fact.

Easily Confused Words: Fowl vs. Foul

Fowl and foul are homophones and easily confused words. Homophones are words that are identical in sound, but have unique spelling, and mean different things.

The spell-check application of word processing software wouldn’t catch a slip-up of these two words. Why? Spell-check seeks out words that aren’t in its database and typos. If you used a word and spelled that word correctly, spell-check keeps right on searching; it doesn’t know the user may have meant another word and might be thinking faster than they are typing.

Fowl (pronounced “f-owl”) is a noun referring to all birds. Waterfowl, for example, includes ducks, geese, gallinules (coots), snake birds, mergansers, anhingas, egrets, cranes, storks, and herons.

Foul (pronounced “f-owl”) is a noun meaning a mistake or error, this meaning comes to us from sports. What are some popular uses? When a controversial or unpopular policy is implemented by government, the affected parties “cry foul.” To run afoul is to cause offense.

Foul can also be an adjective, meaning sour, bad, or discomfort-causing. For example, Limburger cheese is known for possessing a foul odor; it’s hard to tell when it went bad by smell.

The following sentence uses both fowl and foul correctly:

Without freezing or refrigeration, freshly killed fowl will start to smell foul quickly, especially in warm, humid climates.

News and Infotainment and the Music Biz in My Lifetime: Netflix

“Why can’t you stop watching Netflix?”

I saw this story today with its click-bait headline. It got me thinking about my own views of what Netflix has gotten right. I think it boils down to three words: convenience, quality and variety. There are some sidebars to those points below as well.

  • Convenience, insanely cheap convenience: Netflix delivers a smorgasbord of content for under $8-10 to start. That is insanely cheap compared to what cable has always cost (nevermind the upgrades to HBO and Showtime.) With streaming, it’s all at your convenience. No hopping in the car to shop for a videotape or DVD only to find out the hottest new titles are sold out. Or, aw shucks, I brought the disk or tape home and its been played so many times its scratched and warped and unviewable. The original Netflix DVD in your box wasn’t half-bad plan either, but the company didn’t want to get stuck in a rut and left behind, a la Blockbuster.
  • [SIDEBAR: Someone in the CNN article said young people don’t know what it means to watch something when it’s on, instead of when they want to watch it. Actually, though, a funny thing happens on twitter when MTV runs a feel-good, coming of age classic: that title is trending. I think it’s cool when I spy Freedom Writers and Love and Basketball are trending. Why? Because it’s being rerun on cable, most likely MTV, right at that moment. All these teens scattered around the US are having this “flash mob viewing party” thing and can’t resist commenting about it online. These kids probably don’t know each other, but they share this film as a source of ’emotional comfort food’ they always enjoy coming back to. This kind of phenomenon is the stuff that made The Wizard of Oz and The Sound of Music legend for us middle-aged and older folks; those two films were regularly run on network TV around major holidays. Hallmark cards has proven with the The Wizard of Oz you can make a fair amount of money selling new merch for movies that are older than most Americans alive today. Isn’t that amazing? So I counter what this person said a little. Yes, most kids younger than myself know and love convenience-watching, their tune will still change once they near puberty regardless. Once adolescence arrives, preteens and older kids are more flexible with their watching because they want content that their parents don’t understand, don’t care about, don’t approve of, or both. If it’s convenient and/or the parents have a copy, “it’s not desirable/it’s probably for little kids” in an older child’s mind. That means sacrificing individual convenience for a bigger purpose, “getting away from the parents, finding friends, and establishing my own identity.” Now I’ll move on.]
  • More on Convenience: “Free Refills” If you found something you like, Netflix doesn’t play keep away and say “sorry, tune in next time.” They say “hey having fun? have a refill, let’s keep this party rolling.” Now that it knows what you want, it wants to give you more of that if you wish. If you are binge-watching it even pauses between episodes to ask if you’re still there and still interested in watching. When you run out you can start on a new show or at least some common thread content–same genre, same cast members, same director, or all of the above. 
  • Quality. Netflix delivers lots of quality content you couldn’t find anywhere else: the documentaries, for instance. The only place to see docs in the pre-cable, non-cable world was PBS. Otherwise, maybe someone in your community was giving a special viewing at the library or a cinema, but you need typically need a certain community size, more urban landscape for that to happen. When I was younger, it seemed like NYC and LA were the only cities in America where it was possible to see all the movies that were truly out. Everywhere else got only blockbusters and big-budget pictures. [SIDEBAR: I am surprised to learn that people mainly watch Netflix for binge-watching old TV shows because cable, and even local affiliates, run lots of reruns already, they just don’t run them at the viewer’s  convenience. This is another point where Netflix is winning. I learned that some public places with TVs will run binge sessions of old TV shows, and preferably the content is child-safe which means 1980s and prior programming. It’s hard to run modern series because inevitably the content gets racy now and again.] 
  • SIDEBAR: Instant, but not necessarily classic: You’d think the oldest networks would make an effort to make shows people might still want to watch 10 or 20 years from now. Give the crime shows and reality shows a rest, stop trying to be shocking and salacious all the time, stop trying to be so edgy because networks always lose when they try to play the cable content game. Will people watch old episodes of Big Brother, Survivor, and will they 20 years from now? I seriously doubt it unless they get the MST3000 treatment. Write something the late Andy Griffith would have starred in, that guy was the Elvis of classic TV and long running series. And bridge generations for gosh sakes. Modern Family’s shown it’s possible and it can really work. Our population is grey-haired, don’t write the 40+ age groups off so quickly.
  • Variety. I like the docs, the indies I never would have seen otherwise, and catching up on shows I never saw when they were hot just to see what I missed. We have limited basic in our house so we’re missing this current Game of Thrones wave, and we also missed the LOST wave a few years back. Clearly, I’ve never been hip, but Netflix is still interested in ‘being my friend’ so to speak, it’s also other people’s friend for old TV series. Then there’s the House of Cards and Orange is the New Black crowds, it’s their friend too. Netflix is winning by being a lot of things to a lot of different people. As the article pointed out, networks fail because they abandon shows that have followings and they interrupt series for major sporting events all the time. Networks are classic commitment-phobes: they want your relationship until something better comes along. They get a winning series, then they knife it (and its audience) in the back with shifting scheduling, and stop everything for sports seasons or big events. Maybe this made sense in the 3-5 network, pre-cable world. It doesn’t now, and it hasn’t for probably 30+ years. It’s what they’ve always done and they don’t seem motivated to unlearn it anytime soon.                                                 Cable challenged their status, now Netflix (and Amazon and Hulu and Crackle are challenging it, too. Let’s see how they survive the next 20 years. Networks always think people need them and acted with arrogance and too big to fail attitudes, Netflix has always thought how to better serve its customers. Yes, those customers are paying, but it’s insanely cheap price to pay for good relationship that’s respected by both parties. 

What are your thoughts, blogosphere?