Homophones – when puns become dangerous

15/03/2012
Written by Rachel

Yesterday was Pi Day but Oxford Dictionaries were concerned that some people might be tucking into their pi, rather than getting their calculators out.

Now, I love a good pun. We’re blessed to have a language stuffed full of homophones, which gives us the basis of this wonderful form of humour. They can be clever and witty; after all, a good pun is its own reword. Or they can be downright dreadful: a particularly memorable family Sunday lunch of monkfish curry was marked by an ex-boyfriend of mine asking if anyone could pass the nun bread, which of course induced a collective groan.

But homophones have a dangerous side: in the wrong context they can trip up the unwary proofreader. And they won’t get picked up by a spell-checker either because the word will be spelled correctly, just in the wrong context. Take, for example:

Of course, I’m sure you all spotted that actually these should read:
 
These are very common errors and once you start to look into homophones you realise that there are hundreds of them in English. So when proofreading, remember that puns can sometimes be dangerous. Just ask the Duracell bunny – he was arrested and charged with battery. I’ll get my coat…