SMUG Monday 4/25/11: Confusing word pairs (Leery/wary, weary)

One sure way to make others question your authority (yes, imagine Cartman’s voice there, please) is to confuse similar words. Granted, most people may not notice–but if your life, your career, involves words (like, say, writers) then you might want to insure that you speak with the utmost clarity and precision.

Let’s take this pair:

leery/wary–[adj] cautious, suspicious
weary–[adj] the state of being tired (literally or figuratively)/[verb] to become weary

Some sentences are written such that either word could make sense.

  • Example: “She was leery/wary/weary of her suitor’s Alphole behavior.”
  • note: leery and wary can be used interchangeably in all these examples*

However, if your sentences are more precise, then you may encounter serious reader confusion.

  • Example: “After making love that night, the Duke of Netherloin was wary of his beloved’s lusty, womanly cavern.”

Ick! Makes you wonder whether she’s got teeth down there. While the correct form (“weary of [her] cavern”) doesn’t say much for his staying power, it certainly doesn’t imply cannibalistic vaginas.

*Extra note: leery [adv] and leer [verb] shouldn’t be confused either. You get leery when the sketchy guy in the corner leers at you. If you leer at the guy and make him leery, well, you’ve got to work on your pick-up technique.

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