Friday, August 09, 2013

Piqued by their teasing, she peeked up at the peak

I hesitate to post on the topic of frequently misused words, because lord knows I'm not perfect on this one. When I'm typing fast, I'm just as likely as the next person to type "their" when I mean "they're," or "lose" when I mean "loose."  I know the difference, I'm just typing fast and not really paying attention and things slip by me.

But I've read so many typos/errors/misused words recently that I'm practically in rant mode.  I read a book by a New York Times best-selling author from a major publishing house where twice in one book a character left a room in high dungeon.  The first time it made me laugh, because it's obviously a mistake and it's kind of cute (how can you leave a room in a dungeon?).  But the second time you have to at least consider the possibility that maybe they really didn't know that if you are bummed about something, you leave the room in high dudgeon.  *shakes head* *thinks gloomily about the future of western civilization*

And then there's peak, peek, and pique (spelled differently but all pronounced the same).  I've seen all three of them misused in the past couple of weeks, but at least it has mainly been in blog posts and self-pubs.  So just for the record:

peak is the apex, summit, or highest point of something.  You climb a mountain to its peak (and if you live in an outdoors area, you hear people say they are going to bag a peak). Or: Gas prices peaked at over $4 a gallon.  Or: Whitney Houston was at her peak in the 80s.

peek is to look at something briefly, or through a small opening.  You can peek in the oven to see if your muffins are done. Or a child can peek out from underneath the covers.  (which will inevitably lead to playing peek-a-boo).

pique is to enhance or stimulate--The lecture about spelunking piqued my interest in caves. Or: their constant chatter about the movie star piqued my curiosity about her movies. Or pique can be used to describe being irritated or angry.  She was piqued by the ceaseless rain.  After the insult, he stormed out in a fit of pique.

Then there's "feeling peaky" which means feeling slightly out of sorts, but not really sick.  And there's "feeling peckish," which is another thing entirely and means "hungry."

Are we clear?  Although I have to confess, I thought there were "peek-toe shoes" because your toes peek out, right?  But they're not peek-toe, they're peep-toe.  According to, "peep" can mean the same thing as "peek" sometimes (other times it means to utter a soft, high-pitched sound like a baby bird).

Oh, and PRIMROSE when used as a color is a shade of YELLOW.  Seriously, people.  It sounds like it should be pink because it has "rose" in it, but it's yellow.  Look it up if you don't believe me.  In Ulysses, Stephen Dedalus's treacherous friend Buck Mulligan is often associated with the color yellow, and he wears a primrose waistcoat.

This may turn into a series, but that's all for now.  What is the mis-used word that irritates you the most?  Ha--that piques you the most?

I sound disturbingly like an English teacher.


  1. relatable - all my students find characters in books "totally relatable" meaning that they can relate to the characters, not that the narrative arc of the character is relatable (tellable/narratable). But I've decide to let it go, because in 20 years one of the correct usages of relatable will mean what my students think it means. Language is a moving target determined by the users not the experts....even though I wish it were not so.

    1. I can be pretty relaxed about spoken language (my own spoken grammar is terrible), but in writing errors bug me more. I'm not sure I've ever heard "relatable"!

      We went on a hike today, and at one point we were looking at a mountain peak so I said something about this post. My two kids and their two friends stared at me blankly, then PellMel's boyfriend said, "Sounds riveting," in a totally deadpan voice. Cracked me up. I love him already, he fits right in. I guess this is pretty much the bottom of the barrel in terms of post topics, but there are enough of us around here that are word geeks that I don't feel too bad about it. :-)

    2. you may have already seen this (about the origins of "relatable") but I thought it was interesting.

  2. This DOES need to be a series. And it IS fascinating.
    Okay, I'm as word-geeky as you are, so maybe my opinion wouldn't be "riveting" to your guest.
    (Not to any of mine, currently, either.)

    You're gonna be a great teacher.

    1. thanks, I hope so! I knew my fellow word geeks wouldn't mind.

  3. Oh, yeah. Makes my fingers itch for a red pen. I love and adore words and their meanings and origins so even if no one else enjoys you writing about words, you'll have me!