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Confusibles are words similar in sound or spelling with originally different meanings that have become, or are becoming confused. Sometimes they take character and meaning from each other. To tell them apart, it helps to know Latin. But hang on, why are we speaking the language of some Europeans who conquered us 2,000 years ago?
 
Do you get confused between amaranth, nenuphar, asphodel and nephilim? I know I do. And even poets are bewildered.
 
Amaranth is the flower that never fades, also known as love-lies-bleeding.
 
A nenuphar is a waterlily.
 
Asphodel is a flower found in the fields of Elysium, a paradise for the righteous dead according to Greek mythology.
 
Ambrosia, according to the Greeks, is the food of the gods. According to the British, it is tinned rice pudding.
 
Nephilim: in the Bible, they are the offspring of the sons of God and the daughters of men.
 
"There are no fields of Amaranth this side of the grave. There are no voices, oh Rhodope, that are not soon mute, however tuneful: there is no name ... of which the echo is not faint at last." Walter Savage Landor  (Perhaps he meant "asphodel".)
 
Audit, orbit, ambit or remit? An audit is an annual accounts check. An orbit is the path a planet takes round the sun. An ambit is a domain, and a remit is an area of authority (That's not in my remit!).
 
Have we gone AWOL, amok, amuck or haywire? AWOL stands for Absent WithOut Leave. People who run amok or amuck go berserk (Malayans run amok, Vikings go berserk). If something's gone haywire it's gone pear-shaped.

Baneful or baleful? Webster's Dictionary says: The "bale" of "baleful" comes from the Old English "bealu" ("evil"), and the "bane" of the similar-looking "baneful" comes from the Old English "bana" ("slayer, murderer"). "Baleful" and "baneful" are similar in meaning as well as appearance, and they are sometimes used in quite similar contexts -- but they usually differ in emphasis. "Baleful" typically describes what threatens or portends evil (e.g., "a baleful look," "baleful predictions"). "Baneful" applies typically to what causes evil or destruction (e.g., "a baneful secret," "the baneful bite of the serpent"). Both words are used to modify terms like "influence," "effect," and "result," and in such uses there is little that distinguishes them.

When we're out of control, do we career, careen, carom or slalom? To career is to run at full speed (he came careering down the road). If we careen a boat we tip it onto its side. To carom is to bounce off walls, but if you slalom you zigzag around obstacles.
 
Chaff or chafe? To chaff someone (it rhymes with laugh) is to tease them, in obsolete slang. If something chafes, it rubs painfully or uncomfortably. But you can chafe (rub) your hands to warm them – it must be from the French chauffer (to heat).

Are you a cohort, a consort or a crony? One person can't be a cohort: it's a Roman army division, or a peer group. A consort is the spouse of a monarch. A crony is a friend and ally – but there's a suggestion that cronies flock around, or fawn on , a more powerful character in the hopes of receiving a cushy job or other favours.
 
Shall I compare thee to a summer's day – or is it "with"? To compare to is to liken, so if I compare thee to a summer's day I'm saying you are like a summer's day; to compare with is to measure up, assess or grade. Compared with a summer's day, you are sunnier and warmer – as Shakespeare didn't put it.

I decry something in the distance - or do I descry or espy it? Actually if I decry something I criticise it. If I descry something I can just make it out. If I espy it I can see it in the distance. And if I scry using a crystal ball I can foretell the future.
 
Detract or distract? Do detract from is to take away from. To distract someone is to divert their attention.
 
Have I been discomfited or discomforted? To discomfit someone is to thwart their plans; to discomfort them is just to make them uncomfortable.
 
Evoke or evince? To evoke is to call forth, to evince is to display (he evinced no emotion).
 
Does a shock make you flinch, blanch or blench? To flinch is to start, or shrink back. To blanch is to go white. Blenching is a combination of the two.

Forgo or forego? If you forgo something you give it up, the foregoing precedes whatever comes after it.

Gain, garner, glean, garnish or gather? To gain or garner is to acquire or gather, to glean is to pick up what's been overlooked. To garnish is to decorate food.

Hark back or harp on? Hark means listen, so if you hark back you are listening to the past. If you harp on about a subject you talk about it endlessly. The original expression was: "Always harping on the same string". (Don't you know any more tunes, Ethel?)
 
Hermeneutic, heuristic or hermetic? Do we care? These words were very popular in the 80s and many people use them interchangeably. In Ancient Greece, a hermeneus was an interpreter. Hermes was the god of magic. A  hermetically sealed contianer is airtight. So a hermetic statement could be deliberately incomprehensible. A heuristic is a concept or model that helps in an investigation. The Free Dictionary's example is: "The historian discovers the past by the judicious use of such a heuristic device as the 'ideal type'." Happy now?
 
Hive, hub or hubbub? People are starting to say "the place was a hubbub of industry". The cliché goes "it was a hive of industry" – buzzing with activity like a beehive. A hubbub is a confused noise. A hub is the bit in the middle of a wheel where the spokes meet, so "Anytown was a hub of glass production" means it was a centre of glass production.
 
Imbue, endow, endue or imbrue? To endue is to inspire or permeate with feelings (Endue thy ministers with righteousness). Imbue means to permeate with feelings, or to dye a piece of cloth. To endow is to give or fund (a rich man may endow a hospital). "Come, blade, my breast imbrue!" pleads Shakespeare's Thisbe as she prepares to stab herself (and garbles her words).
 
Immure, inure or enure? The first means to wall up, the second two mean to accustom.
 
Inanition, inanimate or insensate? Inanition is starvation (though most people think it means inertia or apathy). If you're inanimate you're lifeless, if insensate, you're senseless.
 
Ingenuous or ingenious? An ingenuous person is candid and naive, an ingenious person is always thinking up clever schemes.
 
Interment or internment? You inter someone after death, but intern them in prison.
 
Is your hair or garden luxuriant or luxurious? You hope your tresses and plants will grow luxuriantly (abundantly). A luxurious interior is grandly comfortable.

Just off for a nosey around - or is it a mosey? You can nose around, like a dog sniffing out interesting scents. To mosey is just to wander around.

And now we come to the nub, hub or crux... A nub is a small protuberance, a hub is the centre of a wheel, and a crux is is a central or critical point. It's also the Latin for cross. Is it like coming to a crossroads, or am I being fanciful?
Obliquity, obloquy or obsequy? Obliquity is indirectness, obloquy is infamy, obsequies are a funeral.
 
You want to know if people are offering you oppobrium or approbation – one means contempt, the other means approval.

Is your little boy a prodigy, progeny or protégé? A prodigy is a seven-year-old violin virtuoso, if he's your progeny or offspring you can cash in. If an older man bankrolls the career of a lovely young girl, she's his protégé, and he's her protector.

Are you racked or wracked with pain? Imagine being tortured on the rack – not pleasant. But to wrack means to destroy utterly.
 
Riddled, riven, ridden or rife? Gruyere cheese is riddled with holes. Riven means split. If you're hagridden you're dominated by fears. When crime is rife it's ubiquitous.

Shirk, scrimp or stint? Shirkers avoid work, people who scrimp and save count the pennies, when Juliet "stinted, and said 'Ay!' " she stopped crying and said "Yes".

Sliver, slither or slaver? A sliver is a splinter, to slither is to creep, to slaver is to salivate.

Slough or slouch? A snake sloughs (rhymes with fluffs) off its old skin, you fall into a swamp or slough (rhymes with how, like the town), you slouch when you stand and walk in a droopy, foot-dragging way.

Spartan, sparse or stark? A Spartan is a member of an Ancient Greek tribe which despised comfort. Sparse vegetation is not luxuriant. Stark surroundings are plain and bare.

Is our affair squalid or sordid? A squalid kitchen is grimy and full of dirty crockery. A sordid deal is mean and shameful. But there is a lot of crossover between the two words.
 
Is an uncooperative person stolid, stodgy, solid or stubborn? If they're stolid they're unemotional, stodgy food is filling (and a stodgy person is pompous and inflexible), solid things are 3D (and a solid person is always there when you need them). A stubborn person is just mulish.

Call me a cabriolet! Or is that a capriole or cabriole? The first is a taxi cab, but a capriole is a caper and a cabriole is a type of furniture leg.

Once more into the what, dear friends? Your breech is your crotch, over which you wear breeches. A breach is a gap – Henry V was calling on the English to attack the break in the French defences. To broach a cask is to break open a barrel (you metaphorically broach a subject).To brook is to tolerate.
 
Uppermost, utmost, uttermost or topmost? The uppermost and topmost are top of the heap, the utmost and uttermost are the mostest or the farthest.
 


QUIZ
Does aghast mean amazed, appalled or angry? (appalled)
Does ascendancy mean dynasty, ancestry or mastery? (mastery)
Does battery mean array, attack or barrage? (attack)

Does belie mean betray, reveal or contradict? (contradict)
Does compunction mean compulsion, compassion or contrition? (contrition)
Does novitiate mean novice nun, group of novice nuns or member of a religion? (a group of novice nuns)

Is an edifice the front of a building, a building or a tower? (a building)
Is diffidence reluctance, respect or shyness? (shyness)
Does foray mean battle, excursion or raid? (excursion)

Does hallowed mean high, holy or hollow? (holy)
Does hiatus mean gap, heyday or exodus? (gap)
Does homily mean porridge, sermon or homage? (sermon)

Does imbue mean endow, infuse or drain? (endow)
Does inherent mean installed, innate or inevitable?
Does invariably mean unavoidably, always or nearly always? (always)
 
Does insipid mean tepid, insidious or bland? (bland)
Does lauded mean praised, boasted or saluted? (praised)
Does ostensibly mean originally, apparently or showily? (apparently)

When you examine something closely, do you pore, pour or
paw
over it? (pore)
Does preoccupation mean prejudice, worry or obsession? (obsession)
Does proviso mean provision, premise or caveat? (caveat)

Do you reap, wreak or cause havoc? (cause)
Does reticent mean disinclined, reserved or religious? (reserved)
Does sacrosanct mean holy, taboo or superb? (holy)
 
Does sanguine mean sarcastic, optimistic or sardonic? (optimistic)
Does spatchcocked mean sprawled, straddled, splayed or
botched up? (splayed)
Does touted mean praised, rejected or sold in the street? (sold in the street)
Does vaunt mean leap, brag or advertise? (advertise)



Obscurity

 
Is this mystery opaque, obtuse, obscure, oblique, arcane, abstruse or occult?
 
arcane An arcane topic is studied and understood only by a select few.
 
abstruse An abstruse topic is just hard to understand.
 
opaque is the opposite of transparent
 
 
obtuse is from the Latin obtusus, meaning blunt or dull. An obtuse angle is more than 45 degrees; an acute angle is less than 45. An obtuse person is stupid, unlike those sharp people with acute intelligences. This is possibly a Victorian joke. LINK
 
obscure means hidden, hard to find, or hard to see – like a distant star
 
oblique means slanting, like this: //// But you may make an oblique, or back-handed, reference to something.
 
occult means hidden, and usually refers to dark arts and spiritual realms
 
 
 

Scuppered

 
scupper   a scupper is a drain in the side of a ship. If you scupper someone's chances you put a spanner in the works – or possibly open the drains so that the ship fills with water and sinks
 
scuttle   you scuttle a ship when you punch holes in the hull to sink it
 
scunner   If you "take a scunner to" someone, have you fallen in love at first sight? Or do you loathe them on sight? According to Merriam-Webster a scunner is "an unreasonable or extreme dislike or prejudice"  According to Words & Uses by R.G. White  (1881), "Cultivated and well-meaning people sometimes take a scunner against some
particular word or phrase." You're not wrong, R.G.)






Boing!!!


Redound, resound or rebound? They have different meanings, but they've been confused since Thomas Malory wrote about King Arthur and his Knights in the 15th century.
 
The Free Dictionary says redound means:
1. To have an effect or consequence: deeds that redound to one's discredit.
2. To return; recoil: Glory redounds upon the brave.
 
resound   means to echo
 
rebound   what happens when you overstretch a rubber band and it snaps back against your hand.
 

Torrid affairs

 
torrid means hot
 
turbid means muddy
 
turgid and tumid mean swollen
 
torpid means sleepy
 
turpitude is daring