Easily Confused Words: Diabolical vs. Debacle

 Diabolical vs. debacle are easily confused words. 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’s suggesting what word you may want to save time, but quite often, its suggestions are pretty off base. They don’t help you out, but they do make you laugh.

Diabolical (pronounced “die-uh-boll-ick-all”) is an adjective. It describes something demonstrating or showing evil genius. [If you are familiar with Latin languages, you know diablo means devil, and that’s a source for this word.] If someone describes something as diabolical it could be evil, or it could just show unbelievable insight and genius, as if the creator were up to something.

Debacle (pronounced “dehb-ick-ull”) is a noun. It means a breaking up, a collapse, a falling apart of something.

The following story uses both words correctly:

Dulcinea thought she was a shoe-in for winning top prize at the pie contest for the tenth year in a row. Instead, it would turn out to be quite a debacle. New people had moved to town and she would need to up her game. One competitor, Debra, cooked up a pecan pie that was downright diabolical with its hot yet sweet flavors. 

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Easily Confused Words: Offal vs. Awful

Offal and awful are easily confused words.

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’s suggesting what word you may want to save time, but quite often, its suggestions are pretty off base. They don’t help you out, but they do make you laugh.

Offal (pronounced “off-uhl”) is a noun. It means the internal organs of domesticated farm animals: for example, sheep, cows, chickens, goats. These parts are often sold cheaply and consumed as a last resort, even though liver and other organs are actually higher in nutrients than the muscles of those animals.

Awful (pronounced “aw-full”) is an adjective. It describes something that is bad, ugly, poorly done, or something perceived to be bad, negative, or terrible. It can also be used to describe intensity, as in feeling love or care “an awful lot.”

The following story uses both words correctly:

Ophelia was asked to cook a lunch featuring offal and sweetbreads, for example, sheep pancreas and cow’s gullet. The lunch was also required to demonstrate flair for a specific cuisine: Scottish, Scandinavian, or German, perhaps.

Though cooking with organs and glands sounded just awful to her, Ophelia realized she had to pass this challenge to earn respect among her peers. So she tried her best. 

Easily Confused Words: Deify vs. Defy


Deify and defy are easily confused words.

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’s suggesting what word you may want to save time, but quite often, its suggestions are pretty off base. They don’t help you out, but they do make you laugh.

Deify is a verb. It means to turn a human being into a god. For example, some famous people appear to be deified by the media as if they can do no wrong.

Defy is a verb. It means to behave in direct rebellion to orders, guidance, or rules. These can be actual rules given by a superior, or unwritten societal norms that are accepted without question.

The following story uses both words correctly:

Deilia was a new writer at her school’s paper. She was asked to write glowing articles only about the football team, to the point of deifying each player. She wrote lots of sports stories, but she defied the rules, too. She made a point to write about exceptional members of the school band, school glee club, arts, and drama groups. She also highlighted members of the student body who adapted to social and other challenges with anorexia, depression, dyslexia, ADD, and autism. It created a more harmonious student body when they understood each other better. 

Easily Confused Words: Air Raid vs. Aerate

Aerate and air raid are easily confused terms. While aerate is a verb and just one word, air raid is a verb phrase.

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’s suggesting what word you may want to save time, but quite often, its suggestions are pretty off base. They don’t help you out, but they do make you laugh.

Aerate (“err-rayt”, “eh-uh-rayt”) is a verb. It means to expose a substance to air in order that the air permeates the substance. When a bottle of wine is opened, it is aerated before pouring. Gardeners and farmers aerate their soil with holes in order to allow water and nutrients to seep in.

Air raid (pronounced “err  ray-d”) is a verb phrase. It means a bombing or other attack made by aircraft flying overhead. While air raids were conducted by human pilots in 20th century battles, today, 21st century battles often involve drones, a type of UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle).

The following story uses both words correctly:

Aileas was aerating the soil on her family farm when the alarms began to sound. An air raid was happening at any moment and he had to get to the shelter as soon as possible. It wasn’t easy with his limp, but she made it.

Easily Confused Words: Utter vs. Otter

Utter and otter are easily confused words.

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’s suggesting what word you may want to save time, but quite often, its suggestions are pretty off base. They don’t help you out, but they do make you laugh.

Otter (pronounced “awturr”) is a noun. It means a large aquatic mammal covered in thick fur. It has a large nose, small eyes, small ears, webbed feet and very long, round tail. There are freshwater and oceanic species of otters. Both eat fish and shellfish for their diet.  [Otter is sometimes used in puns, replacing “utter” or “oughta” because it sounds similar to those words.]

Utter (pronounced “uh-terr”) has multiple forms.

  • As an adjective, it’s more of a qualifier to other words than a descriptor, like “very.” Popular phrases include utter nonsense, utter failure, utter joy, utter happiness.
  • As a verb, to utter means to say something in a low, soft spoken, barely audible voice.

The following story uses both words correctly:

Ursula was in utter happiness watching the baby otters at the zoo learn to swim and play with each other. 

Easily Confused Words: Turrets vs. Tourette’s

Turrets and Tourette’s are easily confused words.

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’s suggesting what word you may want to save time, but quite often, its suggestions are pretty off base. They don’t help you out, but they do make you laugh.

Turrets (pronounced “turr-itz”) is a plural noun. It means a small tower or pointed dome on a building. They were a common feature on castles and older forts, and they feature lookout points.

Tourette’s (pronounced “tour-ehtz”) is a possessive proper noun. Tourette’s is an inherited neuropathic condition noted for physical and verbal tics that aren’t easily controlled. It is a human condition named for Frenchman Gilles de Tourette, who documented his observations about nine patients with the yet unnamed disorder in 1885. Tourette was a peer of Charcot, the father of neuropathy.

The following story uses both words correctly:

Torrence found growing up with Tourette’s syndrome frustrating and sometimes embarrassing. Her peer group wasn’t compassionate, instead they poked fun, like tics were something that could only happen on purpose.

One day, Tyrone, a boy who was in several of her classes, invited Torrence to come on their field trip. The history club was making a day trip to see local castles and historic houses, and wrap up at the frozen yogurt shop. Finally she had found a friend, and a new crowd; she also realized she found something about architecture soothing. Even its words, like mansards, turrets, loggias, cornices, and friezes, brought a sense of calm and briefly abated her tics. That afternoon, she went home and began drawing buildings of her own creation. 

Easily Confused Words: Gouache vs. Gosh

Gouache and gosh are easily confused words.

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’s suggesting what word you may want to save time, but quite often, its suggestions are pretty off base. They don’t help you out, but they do make you laugh.

Gouache is an opaque, water-based paint used in pre-digital graphic design illustrations, mockups, and art.

Gosh is an interjection. Interjections don’t really have a meaning. They are used to express surprise or astonishment, when a person is at a loss for words and making a simple observation. Gosh, that test was hard. Gosh, this rainy weather sucks. Interjections are safer words to use than expletives (swear words) in mixed company or people of all ages.

The following story uses both words correctly:

Gawain was just about to finish his latest portrait when he realized he was out of certain colors. This wouldn’t be a problem, except he promised the painting would be ready in a half an hour from now. “Oh my gosh! I’m out of white gouache!” he cried.