To make a prairie it takes a clover and one bee,
One clover, and a bee.
The revery alone will do,
If bees are few.
Yet another favorite is halcyon (HAL-see-on), meaning: 1. calm and peaceful; tranquil. 2. prosperous; golden. Doesn’t the phrase “halcyon days” seem more evocative than “golden days”? Plus, “halcyon” brings to my mind a stanza from a favorite Mary Chapin Carpenter song “Jubilee”:
'Cause the people who love you are waiting,Many of my favorite words are uncommon words, but others are commonly used words like “love,” “grace,” and “tranquility.” I find it interesting that all those words appear on a list of the seventy most beautiful words in the English language according to a poll conducted several years ago by the British Council. I do admit to being puzzled that “banana,” “hiccup,” and “gum” also appear on the list. They are evidence, I suppose, that there truly is no accounting for taste. For the most part, I’m much more in tune with Robert Beard’s “The 100 Most Beautiful Words in the English Language.” I wholeheartedly concur with his choice of “dalliance,” “efflorescence,” and “gambol,” but I fear “quintessential” has become overused and “woebegone”—despite the spelling difference--too closely linked to Garrison Keillor.
And they'll wait just as long as need be.
When we look back and say those were halcyon days,
We're talking 'bout jubilee.
It should come as no surprise that the misuse of words affects me like the sound of fingernails scratching across a chalkboard. I’m still groaning about a reference in something I read online recently to “Charles, the Prince of Whales.” Back in September of last year Houghton Mifflin Harcourt published a small book by the editors of the American Heritage Dictionaries entitled 100 Words Almost Everyone Mixes Up or Mangles. The list includes homonyms, outright errors, and pairs that are similar in meaning, yet carry subtle, significant differences.
Do we know the differences in these pairs?
baleful and baneful
faze and phase
historic and historical
tenant and tenet
Should we write “slight of hand” or “sleight of hand”?
I think social media exchanges make us all mixers and manglers at times.
One of Mark Twain’s most often repeated bits of wisdom is “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.” As readers and writers, we appreciate that both lightning and lightning bugs can be important. We just have to know the difference.
What are your favorite words? Are there confusing pairs that you have to check before using? Are there frequently misused words that make you cringe?