Sunday, August 19, 2007

Can I Pique Your Interest with a Tool?

If you find homonyms and words with similar meanings to be confusing, visit Confusing Words for a little clarity. They offer a few thousand examples of words that people mix up or misuse.

I posted this because, for probably the 100th time this year, I read a post from a supposed writer using the phrase, “It really peaked my interest.” The poster did not mean that their interest was taken to its highest point. He or she meant that the link or post to which he or she was responding “excited” interest.

Most people use “piqued” or, incorrectly, “peaked” to mean that they found something interesting. I suppose they think that it sounds more intelligent to use the term. Using the wrong word backfires on the writer, however. It also melts synapses in my head and forces me to write nasty responses. I don't post them, but I may snap any day.

The last sentence in the second paragraph above leads me to the great debate about gender-neutral writing. There is no consensus on using “their” for “his or her”, although it does make your writing less wordy and awkward. Some folks are horrified at seeing the plural pronoun to write about a single person.

In some instances you can avoid writing about a single person by referring to the group as a whole. In this post, I could have altered the paragraph to talk about all of the people who make an error that really piques my ire. But it would be better if I could simply have a word that makes clear the fact that I am unsure of (or do not wish to specify) the gender of the subject.

Tomorrow I will research the opinions of some experts and post links. I am on the fence about this issue. I prefer to have my pronouns agree with my subjects, but I also like the ease of using “their” and “they”. Here's hoping that I can come up with a solid opinion either way before I finish writing the post!




The "piqued"-type issue can get a bit amusing for me, when I'm reading my friends' writing. It's nice when friends let you whine and bemoan the error and take your complaints in good humor.

On the gender issue, I prefer the traditional singular pronoun for cases of unknown gender: he/his. It's hardly sexist; the words he/his merely have more than one meaning.

If anything, she/her should be called the "sexist" paring, since it points out a definite gender while he/his doesn't!



It's definitely easier to pick one gender (e.g. he/him/his, although you could use the feminine versions) and stick with it. I'm going to research what the style guides and other "experts" have to say.