New Word: Pairs, Pairs

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New Word #128

I’ve heard of phrases like “good things come in pairs” or “bad things come in pairs”, which are probably wise old idioms or song titles or advertising buzz words. However what I have encountered more frequently are confusions coming in pairs. I’ve had posts about confusing pairs before, and here is a new one, which attests to the fact that there’s an inexhaustible list of confusing pairs of English words. And just when you think you have mastered some of them and made a dent in this mental molehill, you find a bunch of new confusing pairs.

fungi vs. fungible

  • fungi is the plural form of fungus, which is easy and friendly, but fungible has nothing to do with fungi. It means a product or commodity replaceable by another identical item. Fortunately fungible is not often used outside of the legal profession.

antic vs. ante

  • ante: a stake put up by a player in poker and similar games before receiving cards. This means the money you bet. The most often used phrase is “up the ante”, which means to increase what is at stake or under discussion, especially in a conflict or dispute.
  • antics: foolish, outrageous, or amusing behavior. And this word is always in this plural form. The word antic means something different. The word antics is used pretty often and the word antic is rarely used.

fizz vs. fizzle vs. frizzle vs. frazzle

  • These are words that refuse to be cleared up in my mind. No matter how many times I try to find out which is which, I end up forgetting the distinction soon afterwards.
  • fizz: (a soda or other liquid) produce bubbles of gas and make a hissing sound. This is not to be confused with hiss, which is the sound of a snake; sizzle or frizzle, which is the sound of frying.
  • fizzle: make a feeble hissing or spluttering sound.
  • frizzle: fry or grill with a sizzling noise.
  • frazzle: cause to show the effects of exhaustion or strain.

pit against vs. pitch against

  • pit against and pitch against have the same meaning: to cause (someone or something) to fight or compete against (another person or thing). For example, the game will pit A against B.

frisky vs. frisk

  • frisky: playful and full of energy
  • frisk: (of a police officer or other official) pass the hands over (someone) in a search for hidden weapons, drugs, or other items.

pull punches vs. throw punches

  • pull punches: be less forceful, severe, or violent than one could be.
  • throw punches: to swing one’s arm and try to hit someone with one’s fist.

here and there vs. neither here nor there

  • here and there: in various places.
  • neither here nor there: of no importance or relevance.

canny vs. uncanny

  • The word canny is rarely used but uncanny is often used. Canny means having or showing shrewdness and good judgment, especially in money or business matters. Uncanny means strange or mysterious, especially in an unsettling way.

wittingly vs. unwittingly

  • Witting is rarely used, but unwitting is often used. Unwittingly means without being aware; unintentionally.

22 thoughts on “New Word: Pairs, Pairs

    1. I have to say I can always find grammar mistakes in my writing. And often it’s a little embarrassing. However I just can’t seem to be grammatically perfect. I mean perfection is always missing in my life, in everything I do almost. LOL.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. If it’s any consolation there are quite a few pairs of the frizzle/frazzle variety that I (a native speaker) get wrong in the heat of the moment. Often if you use the wrong one it hardly registers because people know what you mean anyway. Flammable/inflammable are apparent opposites that mean the same – which is particularly annoying. People mix up imply and infer – which have different meanings. Flout and flaunt are commonly confused too. People often wrongly talk about “flaunting convention”.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. At least with English we are used to hearing it spoken in a variety of different ways by people from many different parts of the world. I have a theory that speakers of some lesser known languages might be less tolerant of mistakes (or less able to understand what is meant) because they rarely come across people attempting to speak their language in non-standard ways.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Actually that is very true. Most English speaking people are so used to hearing other accents, they are quite used to it and consider it part of normal life. I remember when I was young, people would be very curious and would even laugh at you if your accent was a little different from what people were accustomed to… People were not used to even meet people 100 miles away…


    2. Thank you for pointing this out. There are quite many pairs like flammable/inflammable, for example passionate/impassioned, plant/implant, poverty/impoverish. They are quite annoying. And I can never distinguish between flaunt, flout, flounder, tout, taunt, taut… Hahaha. Nice to know I am not the only one.


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