Easily Confused Words: Inane vs. Insane

Inane and insane are easily confused words. Both touch on things not making sense, but for different reasons.

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.

Inane (pronounced “ihn-ainn”) is an adjective.

  • It can describe something silly or irrelevant
  • It can describe something empty, void, or lacking substance

Insane (pronounced “ihn-say-nnn”) is an adjective.

  • It describes someone not in their right mind
  • It describes an event, usually caused by people, that is illogical, unbelievable, or disregarding of norms. Oftentimes the behavior isn’t crazy, it’s more likely ignorant, careless, greedy, or a combination of these.
  • It can be a derogatory word used towards people suffering from a mental illness that isn’t widely understood. In the US, a lot of mental illnesses are not widely understood. Historically, mentally ill people were a problem to be dealt with or hidden rather than treated like illnesses in other parts of the body. Patients were locked up in an asylum (or sanitorium), and some were given a lobotomy.

The following story uses both words correctly:

Inez looked at her like she was insane. Zoey was perplexed, so she asked, “What? Was it something I said?”

“Yes. Your commentary about my situation has been inane and your manner aloof. You’re totally not engaged. If you can’t be a good listener why are we even spending time together right now?”

Zooey looked around. “I’ve never been to this bar before. They did a really nice job decorating.”

Inez made an audible ARRGHH sound. “I’m done. Here’s five dollars for my drink. I’m using the restroom and leaving. You can enjoy this ambiance all by yourself.”

Easily Confused Words: Cater vs. Crater

Cater and crater 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.

Cater (pronounced “kay-tuhr”) is a verb.

  • It means to prepare and provide the food for a large group or party. Perhaps you’ve noticed that any restaurant you can eat at is capable of providing catering for special events.
  • More figuratively, it means to placate or indulge the whims of another person (or people), to act subservient to his/her interests or wishes, or their interests or wishes. For example, in representative government, it sometimes appears that legislators cater to the wishes of their biggest donors rather than their voters.

Crater (pronounced “kray-tuhr”) has multiple meanings.

  • It means a depressed area in the Earth’s surface. They can be created by
    • Fallen objects from space include asteroids, meteorites, and comets.
    • Bombs
    • A walled plain or caldera

The largest crater in the United States is Meteor Crater. It is east of Flagstaff, a large city in the state of Arizona in the southwestern United States. A list of craters around the US can be found here.Here is a link to a list of the best-known craters around the world at National Geographic.

TRIVIA: In Oregon (a state in Pacific Northwest), there’s a place called “Crater Lake.” The name is for a crater that sits atop Wizard Island in the middle of the lake. However, the lake itself resides in a caldera, a collapsed volcano. It would be easy to totally miss the crater because the lake is a dazzling spectacle on its own. Here is a story about Crater Lake from the Mail Tribune, an Oregon newspaper.

The following story uses both words correctly:

Crayne fought hard to preserve a nearby crater as a county park. Developers wanted to build casinos, outlet malls, stadiums, you name it, and they figured the town of Carteretteville would be all on board to cater to their whims. The land would be all the easier to fill in because the crater had no brush to eliminate.

But Crayne presented it this way: Developers wanted to pave over one of the unique traits of the landscape to put in an attraction that could be found anywhere, in plenty of other cities. The county agreed to give the park a five year trial period. Creating it ultimately led to more jobs, less litter, and less noise pollution that a large commercial site would have created.

Easily Confused Words: Regale vs. Regulate

Regale and regulate 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.

Regale (pronounced “ruh-gayl”) is a verb. It means to tell tales or recount stories for other’s entertainment or amusement. For example, people regale life stories to impress or amuse strangers and friends alike.

Regulate (pronounced “reg-yoo-layt”) is a verb.

  • It can mean adjusting to keep conditions or circumstances steady or on an even keel. An air conditioner and heat pump regulates the temperature inside your house per your specifications: it adds cold air in summer, and adds warm air in winter.
  • In government, it means to set conditions for issues like pricing, safety, waste disposal, environmental protection, etc. for industries and people. To de-regulate means to ease up or totally get rid of these conditions. In the late 1970s, US airlines were deregulated. Typically deregulation is presented as a good thing in the US. But while the experience of flying commercially has gotten cheaper and more brands are available, the experience of flying commercially has worsened.

The following story uses both words correctly:

Regina Rosenberg had been a Democratic senator for 50 years. She was often asked for interviews, but she declined these requests with comical one-liners. “I won’t regale you with tales of figuring out how to regulate industries and passing bills. It’s the cat-herding experience you’ve been warned about.”

Easily Confused Words: Pica vs. Pika

Pica and pika 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.

Pica (pronounced “pie-kuh”) has multiple meanings.

  • In typography and graphic design, it is a measurement equating to one-sixth of an inch. 12 points make up a pica. You can read more here.
  • In pathology, it means a craving to eat dirt, chalk, clay, or other abnormal things. It is an indicator of malnourishment but a physician would have to determine if the culprit is a lack of iron, zinc, etc. in the patient’s diet.
  • In ornithology (study of birds), Pica pica is the Latin name for a Eurasian magpie bird.

Pika (pronounced “pie-kuh”) is a noun. It means a small furry mammal native to China and the western mountains of North America. While they are genetically related to rabbits and hares, they lack the large ears of their cousins. Pika’s ears are short and rounded, like a mouse’s or a bear’s.

Check out videos of pica here and here.

In pop culture: Pikachu (peek-uh-choo), the yellow character in Pokémon, was named for this creature, but looks like a viscacha (also spelled vizcacha). The viscacha is native to Peru, Chile, and Argentina on the South American continent.

The following story uses both words correctly:

Picksworth realized he might have to cut his documentary on pikas of Asia short. It seemed his youngest was suffering from pica and eating strange things. Living on the road had been unconventional, but up until now it hadn’t been a cause of health problems for anyone in the family.

Easily Confused Words: Typhoon vs. Typhoid

Typhoon and typhoid 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.

Typhoon (pronounced “tie-foon”) is a noun. It is one of three words for a hurricane, a major storm that comes in off the ocean. High winds, tornados, torrential rain are all part of the storm once they come ashore. Some are fast, others are slow and hang over the same area for days.

  • Typhoon refers to these storms in the Western Pacific Ocean.
  • Cyclone refers to these storms in the Indian Ocean and the Southern Hemisphere.
  • Hurricane refers to these storms in the Atlantic Ocean and northeast Pacific Ocean.
    • The Atlantic ones develop off the eastern coast of Africa and affect Caribbean islands, Atlantic islands, the eastern coasts of the Americas.
    • The NE Pacific ones develop off the west coasts of central America and Mexico, just above the equator, they affect Mexico, the western US, western Canada, and Alaska.

Typhoid (pronounced “tie-foyd”) is a noun. It means a bacterial infection leading to ulcers and inflammation in the digestive tract. It is transmitted through the presence of Salmonella typhi in food and drink.

  • In the 1900s in New York City, a cook named Mary Mallon was determined to be an asymptomatic (or incubating) carrier of this disease. A pattern of illness developed among a significant number of employers and customers after eating food she had prepared. Today the term “Typhoid Mary” is used for someone spreading a disease without realizing it.
    • An asymptomatic carrier has the disease and can spread it to others, but isn’t showing symptoms his/herself.
    • A convalescent carrier has recovered from having the disease, yet is still capable of spreading it around.

The following story uses both words correctly:

By stowing away on a freighter in early 1903, Tyler and Tiffany were lucky to have avoided a typhoon that devastated their home island later that year.

They found work in kitchens of some of Tacoma’s wealthiest families. It seemed things were looking up, but there was trouble on the horizon. A disturbing pattern was emerging: family members had fallen ill at each home. Word was getting out that these siblings might be typhoid twins.

Being asymptomatic, if they were sick, they had no way of knowing it. If caught, they would be required to stop working in food preparation. Unfortunately, few menial jobs paid as well as kitchen help, and it didn’t require speaking English like a native. Maybe they would just leave town for other opportunities where no one knew them.

Easily Confused Words: Plum vs. Plump

Plum and plump 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.

Plum (pronounced “pluhm;” rhymes with rum, thumb) has multiple meanings.

  • It can means a type of drupe fruit that is the size of a baseball or smaller. Like a peach, it has a cleft (or groove) running down one side, and a singular pit.
    • Damson is a cultivar that has a dark blue-purple skin and a saffron to green flesh. It is often seen in US markets in summer.
  • It can describe foods or beverages made from the fruit: plum pudding (UK), plum wine (China & Japan), Plum cake (Poland)
  • It can describe a manufactured product with a richly saturated berry color, like cosmetics or a piece of clothing.
  • As a proper noun, it is the pseudonym of English author Plum Sykes. It’s also been a name or nickname for other people listed here.

Plump (pronounced “pluhmp”) has multiple meanings.

  • As a verb, it can mean to engorge or increase in size or volume. For example:
    • Sausage links on a grill plump when they are cooked.
    • Peppermint oil applies to lips helps them plump up and look bigger.
    • In hair products: volumizing products aim to lift up hair from the scalp, while thickening products aim to increase diameter, or ‘plump up” individual strands.
  • As an adjective, it describes something round or dense, like a fully ripened fruit.

The following story uses both words correctly:

It was almost time for the Padgett’s cookout to start. Burgers, bratwursts, and hotdogs were growing plump on the grill. Hefty bowls of potato salad, coleslaw, and macaroni salad were all uncovered and had serving spoons in them. The plates and cups were stacked at the end of the table. The coolers were full of beer, wine coolers, and soda. If no one came to the house today, they would be eating this stuff for a week.

Paloma strolled in, holding a beautiful plum cake.

“Guys, I have bad news. I think it’s about to rain really hard.”

She wasn’t wrong. The sun had disappeared behind thick, angry looking clouds. The party shifted indoors to the screened in porch, and the handful of guests that did show up didn’t seem to mind. They played board games. And the Padgetts, new to the neighborhood, felt like they had friends.

Easily Confused Words: Ebullient vs. Emollient

Ebullient and emollient 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.

Ebullient (pronounced “ih-bool-ee-uhnt”) is an adjective.

  • It can describe something that literally bubbles, like a pot full of heated water.
  • It can describes something figuratively bubbly, like a person known for being lively, happy, and very extroverted. An ebullient person is a people-person and likely someone who loves parties.

Emollient (pronounced “ihmawl-yihnt”) has multiple meanings.

  • As an adjective:
    • It describes a thing that adds moisture, lubricates, or relieves dryness. Typically this would be moisturizer, lotions, ointments used for skin care and/or first aid.
    • In a figurative sense, it would describe something that facilitated or eased a process that had stalled.
  • As a noun, it means a substance or product that adds moisture, lubricates, or relieves dryness.

The following story uses both words correctly:

Eburhardt ached all over. He was covering himself in emollient creams and taking ibuprofen trying to get the awful sting to go away. Being so sore was distracting, it was hard to get anything done. It was like being sick.

During Saturday’s tough beach volleyball championship, he had forgotten to re-apply sunscreen. As team captain, he was too busy being his ebullient self during the game. He was talking to teammates and swapping other players out as needed. It didn’t occur to him to swap out himself. His team won, so his dedication had paid off. It wasn’t without a cost though. When he went to sit down, he realized how badly burnt he was.

This post relates to another post: Easily Confused Words: Emolument vs. Emollient.