Last year, I stumbled upon an article on Huffington Post titled “20 Book Titles With One Letter Missing” and was shocked at how hilariously different each story was. (The Davinci Cod might be equally as complex as the original but the title sounds a bit too fishy.) Recently, I began to wonder what other words could be made drastically different by the removal, addition, or change of a single letter. I realize this can encompass a lot of words, but there are some specific ones that constantly trip me up.
1) Demur vs. Demure
Demur without the “e” means “to object or hesitate” whereas demure means “modest” or “shy.” The former is frequently used in the court of law to describe someone who resists questioning or refuses to comply with orders. By claiming that the quiet boy in the back of the room is demurring, then, you are not pointing out his reserved nature. Rather, you are suggesting that he is being disruptive and should go to the principal’s office for evading the teacher’s questions.
2) Cannon vs. Canon
One of these words describes a general law or principle while the other is used to shoot giant metal balls at pirate ships and ancient castles. One of them is widely used in literature classes; the other, in dangerous circus stunts. If you’re thinking that the latter is “cannon” you’d be correct. (If you’re thinking that the former is cannon, I’ll need the number of your English teacher because shooting cannons off in class hardly seems safe.) The difference between these terms may seem obvious but it makes all the difference when you’re writing an essay or trying to launch Evel Knievel into the air.
3) Crummy vs. Crumby
Unless Holden Caulfield was secretly a fan of brittle cookies, he was likely using the word “crummy” throughout his angsty tale, which means “shabby” or “miserable,” not “crumby,” meaning “tending to break into crumbs.” (And by “he was likely using the word crummy” I mean he was using the word crummy, because I just checked.) The latter has been used in recent years as a synonym for crumbly. For easy reference: Nature’s Valley bars are crumby. Vending machines that steal your Nature’s Valley bar are crummy.
4) Faun vs. Fawn
A fawn is a young animal, usually a deer, that you might’ve seen in your backyard. A fawn, you may also see in your backyard, assuming you live in Narnia or some other mythical world. Fauns are half-goat, half-human hybrids that also happen to be Gods of the forest. They’re known for guiding humans to safety or, sometimes, scaring lonely travelers, depending on their mood. Fawns don’t typically have the same desire to help us out, but considering humans spend most of the time trying to hunt them down, it’s understandable.
5) Guild vs. Gild
As it turns out, one “u” can make all the difference. Guild refers to an association of people who share similar interests. Gild, on the other hand, describes something that is covered in gold. The famous Gilded Age (1870-1900) was given its name by Mark Twain due to the number of social and political problems that were supposedly hidden under a façade of happiness, like a golden outer shell.
6) Hurtle vs. Hurdle
Someone who hurtles moves with great speed. Someone who hurdles jumps over large posts. Someone who hurtles at hurdles jumps over large posts quickly and with a greater chance of dramatically face-planting into the ground. In short, you can hurtle, and you can hurdle, but don’t hurtle and hurdle.
7) Desert vs. Dessert
This is my favorite difference to mention during text conversations, and it’s probably the reason all of my friends secretly hate me. (I haven’t confirmed that fact, but I can only imagine that if they did hate me, that would be why.) Desserts are the delicious pastry or ice cream concoction that finds its way to your plate after dinner. Deserts are endless fields of hot, dry sand that will kill anyone caught in its clutches. So next time someone asks if you like deserts, feel free to recite an elaborate tale of how you hiked successfully across the Sahara with only a cup of water and a stick.
8) Saccharin vs. Saccharine
Though claiming the definitions of these two are “dramatically” different might be a stretch, they’re still interesting to consider. Saccharin without an “e” describes the artificial sweetener you put in your tea or coffee. Saccharine, on the other hand, is an adjective meaning excessively sentimental or sweet. In other words, you can’t eat it, which I consider a dramatic enough difference to be included on this list.
9) Rogue vs. Rouge
I’ve messed this up enough times, I’d be stripped of my English major if anyone ever found out. Rogue, apparently, refers to a vicious animal or a deceitful person. In contrast, rouge means pink, sometimes red.
10) Wretch vs. Retch
Wretch describes a wicked or unfortunate person, in case you’re not fond of the adjective form “wretched.” Without the w, wretch (or, retch) means to vomit. Like hurtle and hurdle, these words can be used together. The sight of a wretch may make you retch. The sight of too much retch may turn you into a wretch. It’s that simple.
What other words have dramatically different meanings when they’re misspelled?