a pro script reader ponders movies, reading, writing and the occasional personal flashback

Monday, December 12, 2005

Careful With Your Homonyms

I'm not sure if there is a Schoolhouse Rock homonym jingle, but if there is, I imagine it goes "Homonyms, homonyms, words that sound the same, but mean different things, don't fuck them up or the reader will know you're an idiot". Set it to a Kanye West beat, with Jamie Foxx channeling Ray Charles in the background.

Seriously, though, sloppy homonym use is a real problem. There's no excuse for mixing up there, their or they're, or there's and theirs, or you're and your.

Want to know when to use its or it's? If you can write it as "it is", it takes an apostrophe.

Anyway, I've been jotting down ones that I've come across in scripts recently. Here's the current list of shame --

That big thing on the front of a theater isn't a "marquis" or "markey". It's a "marquee".

The word is "unfazed", not "unphased".

The neighbors live "next door", not "next store".

The guy who comes on Christmas Eve is "Santa Claus", not "Santa Clause". (I've had two different scripts this month that made this mistake. I blame Tim Allen).

When you're appalled, you're "shuddering". Not "shuttering".

The place where the ball drops in Manhattan is Times Square. Not Time Square, or Time's Square.

And when a girl is crying, she's "bawling". Not "balling", unless she is and she's not enjoying it as much as she could be.


At 2:49 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Some of my other faves:

"Nip it in the butt."

"My curiosity was peaked."

"But we could loose the game."


At 2:59 PM, Anonymous Joshua said...

your and you're is a big one, but it's hard for just about everyone and spellcheck misses it -

Did you get a copy of Eats, Shoots and Leaves? Great book -

At 5:25 PM, Blogger Fun Joel said...

LOL on that last one. I actually posted about shuddering vs. shuttering just last week! Funny that we both see that so much. Or sad, really.

BTW, check my most recent post -- you're mentioned in a relevant sense, Scott!

At 7:54 PM, Blogger Kira said...

Yay for this post! Peak/pique and lose/loose bug the crap out of me, too, Anonymous.

It's sneak peek not sneak peak.

It's wreak havoc not wreck havoc.

It's flesh out an idea not flush out, unless it's a really bad idea. I'd be willing to grant this one to folks if possibly they meant flush out of hiding. They don't mean that.

Thanks for the reminder on ES&L, Joshua. I need to throw that one on the wishlist!

At 8:52 PM, Blogger Patrick J. Rodio said...

Ah, typos. Yes, my biggies that I am guilty of our (oops, I mean "are") you're/your, there/their, hear/here and wear/where. Damn my stupidededness!

At 9:05 PM, Blogger Webs said...

Welcome to my nightmare. I'm an editor, remember....

Still, I've seen nothing worse than a street vendor in San Jose, Calif. who was selling bokays for $5.

Hell, he didn't even pronounce it, "bouquets", right.

At 9:14 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Its, not it's
(I see this in pretty much every script I read. And I read thousands. I read a script by a $750,000 writer once--my boss at the time had me go through the script to look for typos, so I marked 'em all, and there were probably fifty it's/its mistakes. My boss was too embarrassed to point them out to the writer. I don't think anyone ever told him. Guy wrote one of the biggest movies of the 80's. I mean, all this is a little nit-picky, but still, it's pretty careless.)

A lot, not alot
(People have told me they were taught IN SCHOOL that 'alot' is correct, or acceptable to use, which always makes me shiver.)

Jerry-rigged, not jury-rigged

And here is the one that just makes you wanna climb up a bell tower and open fire. The most rage-inducing error of them all.

The one that makes you scream, "And you call yourself a WRITER!?!?"

Fellow readers, you know what I'm talking about...

Say it with me, now...

Could have, not 'could of', or 'would of', or 'should of'.

Non-readers, you CANNOT believe how often I see this.


Used to, not 'use to'

Supposed to, not 'suppose to'

There are a few more, but yeah, 'could of', 'should of'--that one is a killer. It's unforgivable, in my book.

At 9:23 PM, Blogger DMc said...

It's not that these mistakes happen. It's the attitude that's on display when they're pointed out.

I've been a reader, I've been a professor, I've been an advisor. And 90 percent of the time when I point out these mistakes in scripts I read I get an "oh," or a shrug, or a dirty look like pointing it out was somehow rude.

Meanwhile, there have been times when through fatigue or happenstance I've sent off a draft with a typo I found later -- or worse, an it's or its or your or you're or there their or they're misplaced, and I've sweated and pilloried myself for it.

And that's the right call. Because words are what we do.

I don't buy the excuses of the "it doesn't matter" crowd. B.S. There are those of us who care. And if you don't, then go do something else.

Language is beautiful. But only when you use it as the deft instrument that it longs to be. Cheapen it, and you cheapen yourself and what you're trying to accomplish.

And screw you for doing it. You drag the rest of us down with you.

At 11:54 PM, Anonymous kristen said...

you built up to a remarkable finish on that post.

but i must tell you - i'm a grammar stickler, and i was a grammar tutor for 3 years in college - and i still make dumb homonym mistakes from time to time. sometimes when you're writing fast you just don't think about the finer points of language. and then you look at the word with the same eyes later on and it still looks fine. but definitely crap like that should be obliterated before your script ever gets in the hands of a professional reader.

balling. ha ha ha ha ha ha ha.

At 3:00 AM, Blogger The Gambino Crime Family said...

On the other hand (he said, dropping the pretentious reference for the day), have you ever read the notebooks of F. Scott Fitzgerald? Misspellings o'plenty and enough poor grammar to make an English teacher weap. Once you've seen him repeatedly misspell "soldier" (sulcher, solder), it puts your own problems in perspective.

At 6:57 AM, Anonymous Vlad said...

"Could of" is probably the one that sets me off the most, but a close runner up is "lightening" for "lightning."

At 10:22 AM, Blogger Danny Stack said...

Thankfully, I haven't come across 'could of' or 'would of'; plenty of 'its/it's' and 'your/you're' discrepancies on this side of the pond.

In a recent script I read, the producer told me it had been proof read but I marked the typos anyway - loads of them. Pray that the proof readers don't turn to the dark side too (or maybe the producer was the proof reader).

At 4:06 AM, Blogger Chris Soth said...

So -- I went thru some of these (thru? that's forgiveable, right? I'm typing fast, it's the informal, just blew that time-saver)

I actually think I looked up "jury-rigged" and "jerry-rigged" once, and found both acceptable...could be wrong...

...also: to welsh or welch on a bet, found BOTH were acceptable...

...which only goes to show that these homonym mistakes, if they stay around long enough, become common usage...that has to be how this happened, right?

I leave with this one from Emo Phillips:

"They brought out the cake at my nephew's birthday party and he said I want to make a wish...

"I picked him up by his feet and swung him around in circles till he went: WHISH..."

I guess nobody warned him about THE DANGER OF HOMONYMS...

At 8:04 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Chris Soth,

No, your source was wrong about 'jerry-rig' vs. 'jury-rig'.

'Jury-rigged' is definitely incorrect. People mistake it for 'jerry-rigged' because a 'rigged jury' is a real phrase, meaning to 'fix' or 'manipulate' a jury to affect their verdict.

To 'jerry-rig' means to 'fix' something in an improvised or non-standard way.

There's some crossover in the two defnitions, so that's where the mistake occurs.

While we're on the subject of careless, sloppy writing, I just covered a script yesterday by one of the more important filmmakers working today, who wrote and directed one of the most beloved movies of the 90's.

He didn't bother capitalizing the first word of most of the sentences in his dialogue. A bunch of the dialogue blocks had no right hand side indent. In other dialogue blocks, the text would skip down two spaces to indicate a pause.

The whole thing was terribly messy with tons of capitalizations in the description, underlines, bolded text, underlined bolded text, capitalized bolded text, capitalized underlined AND bolded text. Ugh.

Great script, though.

At 11:37 PM, Blogger Mac said...

Hi Anonymous (If that is your real name..)

I'm fairly sure that 'Jury Rig' is actually a correct phrase.

I've always heard of it as a common sailing term.

Typical usage: "The ship limped to port under a jury rig".

If the BBC uses a term - then it's good enough for me...

(PS: The American Heritage Dictionary claims that 'Jerry Rig' is a modern alteration of 'Jury Rig' - probably due to the common phrase 'Jerry Built'...)
(PPS: Being pedantic but wrong is a frightening combination)

At 11:59 AM, Blogger MaryAn Batchellor said...

here and hear

there and their and they're

accept and except

pianissimo and pee in this some mo

Yeah, that last one really chaps me.

At 10:06 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

In one script, I once say both of these:

"He sat ideally by and watched..."


"She's in the cereal isle."

At least he wrote cereal and not serial.

At 11:41 AM, Blogger Host said...

hahaha... "not enjoying it as much as she should be."

pure gold!

At 10:22 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

jerry-rig vs. jury-rig

I stand corrected.

At 5:57 PM, Blogger Thinker said...

Jury-Rig vs. Jerry-Rig

For those having read the previous statements of use, I offer the following:

Jury-Rig: this is a nautical term used to define corrections to a damaged mast (injured mast). When a mast was damaged beyond use, a temporary fix was needed to replace the injured mast which was termed the ‘Jury Mast’. Rigging the temporary replacement for the injured mast became known as rigging the ‘Jury Mast’, which was then shortened to Jury-Rigging, or a Jury-Rig. The term became shorthand for quick, temporary repairs to objects using whatever resources that may be available.

Jerry-Rig: this is often referenced as a World War II slang referring to German (Gerry) quick fixes (rigging). However, the term predates WWII, dating back to the 19th century when something poorly designed or dysfunctional bore the slang term ‘Jerry.’ The term became commonplace when referring to something built of poor quality, not to be confused with temporary repairs to an otherwise functional design. When something was of poor design and workmanship, it was deemed a ‘Jerry-Rig’, and the act of building something of poor quality became known as Jerry-Rigging.

The term was also used during WWII when allied soldiers encountered German equipment that had been temporarily ‘repaired’ to remain functional. However, it is actually a blending of the two separate slang terms, a temporary fix to something mechanical, and a permanent poorly designed/built machine that requires continual repair.

At 12:12 PM, Blogger Chris Glen said...

OK, I thought it was 'jerry rigged' but apparently that's a mistaken combination of:

- a nautical term more properly used for an ingenious repair from matterials at hand.


Badly made, unknown etymology, but used in mid 1800's in UK.

Check OED online!
Both are over 100 years old, so even the WWII term 'jerry' isn't correct (which I assumed was involved)...

There's a term for these confused phrases I'm sure I saw a magazine article about them, or a web site...
It said something about how the modern 'mix up'often makes more sense than the original version.

At 12:14 PM, Blogger Chris Glen said...

jeeprs I cant spel

At 8:55 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's 'rein in,' not reign in, and strait jacket, not straight...AP does this frequently...and somebody should tell Obama that the singular of criteria is criterion, not that his audience knew.

At 11:55 AM, Blogger Daniel D said...

Just a note (and I inherited this tendency from my grandfather)...I absolutely HATE this term, which is NOT a real word: Nucular. The REAL word is Nuclear, people... That drives me CRAZY; I realize that President George W. Bush was the leader of the Free World for 8 years, but his repeated use of this NON-word was what led me to believe that his educational progress through each stage past kindergarten was bought and paid for, not earned. Or would he spell it kindergarden? (I believe that kindergarden is correct in Mexico, but I'm in the U.S.)

At 11:59 AM, Blogger Daniel D said...

I loved the serial / cereal comment, btw...I hope we can catch serial criminals of all types as quickly as possible...I also hope there is never a 'Cereal Killer' lol


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