Easily Confused Words: Askance vs. Askew

Askance and askew 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.

Askance (pronounced “uh-skanse”) is an adverb. It means to look to the side or away. It can also mean to demonstrate disbelief or skepticism at a proposal, an idea, or offer made by another person.

Askew (pronounced “uhsk-you”) has multiple forms.

  • As an adverb, it means something positioned at an angle, or off to one side.
  • As an adjective, it describes a mess of objects, or a specific objects that are all over a room or other space.

The following story uses both words correctly:

Addison looked askance as his bookish son Ashby told him he would get right on cleaning his room, right after he finished the next page. Ashby’s clothes and toys were all askew, as if they had been strewn about in an explosion. 

It was Addison’s fifth time telling his son to do his chores. He was really losing hope that it would get done today.

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