Easily Confused Words: Ball vs. Bawl

The spell-check application of most word processing software programs would not catch a slip-up of these two words. Spell-check is looking for words that aren’t in its dictionary, and words that resemble words in its dictionary but are possibly spelled wrong. Spell-check isn’t perfect. It doesn’t know and can’t guess what word you wanted or what word you meant, it can only judge the words on the page. If you used words that are all spelled correctly, it gives you a pass anyway.

Autocorrect suggests words that start with the same letters. It suggests what word you may want to save time, but quite often, its suggestions couldn’t be more off base and produces humorous results.

Ball is noun with multiple meanings:

  • The most common meaning is a round object used for sports. The shotput, baseball, softball, soccer/futbol, rugby, volleyball, basketball, American football are all different types of balls used for sports.
  • It can also mean a round object used to organize messy material. For example, a ball of yarn, a ball of rubber bands, a ball of wax, a cheese ball.
  • It can also mean a formal event featuring dancing, alcoholic beverages, and elegant food. In the idiom “having a ball,” someone is saying they had a wonderful, amazing time. They probably weren’t literally dancing, wearing elegant clothes, or enjoying drinking expensive food and drink all in one place. They were, however, really enjoying themselves like someone at a ball might.
  • In slang, the plural form balls can mean a man’s testicles. In the idiom “having the balls to do something,” the speaker means “having the boldness, courage, or bravery to do something.” This phrase is sexist but that doesn’t mean you won’t hear it used. “Having the guts to do something” is more generic and more accurate, and means the same thing. Everyone has a gut (aka stomach), and when a person is daring or taking a risk, they can feel acid building in their stomach. Will they back down or power through in spite of those feelings? In contrast, our genitals feel nothing when we do something daring or take a risk, their role is strictly reproductive.

Bawl is a verb. It means to cry or sob loudly. Babies and toddlers are notorious for bawling in public. On some level, they hope their parents will “give in” due to embarrassment.

The following story uses both words correctly:

Ballari had been dreaming of getting her official World Cup Soccer ball signed by her favorite players for months. When she found out she couldn’t go to the games, she bawled day and night for weeks.


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