homophones: flair/flare and role/roll

Recently I saw in a job advertisement a statement to the effect that applicants should have ‘a flare for’ (some part of the job). Three thoughts: 1) This is the wrong word – it should be flair. A flair is a talent or aptitude; a flare is a burst of light. 2) Is is very easy to type the wrong homophone instead of the right one, especially when the two are the same part of speech (here, nouns) and there is some overlap in meaning (a person with a flair might be described as ‘bright’). 3) Someone in the company should have spotted this before the ad was posted. (I wonder if pointing out the typo is part of the application procedure, or whether I would look like a smart-alec if I did.)

Soon after, in the automatically-generated subtitles of a job-skills video, I read the phrase ‘your roll’ (in the company). Again, it’s wrong, but the issue here goes beyond human error to the programming of automatically-generated subtitles, which I know very little about. Google N-grams shows that role is far more common than roll, so it should be the default choice of an auto-subtitler.

English has many pairs (or trios, quartets etc) of homophones, words pronounced the same but differing in meaning, usually spelled differently. It is impossible to compile a complete list, because of pronunciation mergers and splits in different parts of the English-speaking world: for me (speaking more-or-less standard Australian English), marry, merry and Mary are not homophones, but floor and flaw are.

In the case of flair/flare, the meaning is clear, and people watching and listening to the video wouldn’t necessarily read the subtitles. But sometimes accidentally using the wrong spelling (or even deliberately choosing it because you think it’s the right one) can drastically alter (ha! I first typed altar) the meaning. The internet is full of tweets, Facebook posts etc saying that someone had just finished ‘rapping’ the Christmas presents, or even ‘raping’ them (which changes the pronunciation as well as the meaning). Indeed, one person had just finished ‘raping’ her little brother, complete with a picture of him covered in paper and ribbons.

Words do not even have to be pronounced the same: the internet is also full of tweets, Facebook posts etc saying that someone loves the smell of their boyfriend’s ‘colon’. Fair enough, cologne is not an obvious spelling, but if you’re going to mis-spell it, at least type colone.

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2 thoughts on “homophones: flair/flare and role/roll

  1. I am reading a book, which one assumes was proofread, and the sentence was…..’and he turned on his heal and left’………that’s not the first mistake I have come across. The other one was something like…….’and he leant down and kissed her on her forward’…….I assume it meant forehead!

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