On sound-alike words

I’ve always been sensitive to grammar errors, but since I started writing this column, I have to say that I’ve really started noticing them a lot more. It’s been a boon for column ideas – but also slightly maddening.

In the last month or so, I’ve noticed two pairs of words that many people don’t seem to distinguish between. They also don’t appreciate my helpful suggestions as to how they could more appropriately use them. I’m hoping you folks might be different.

Respectfully and Respectively – Have you ever heard a sentence like this: “Dan and Tom are a lawyer and doctor, respectfully.” All of a sudden, I hear this error all the time. While Dan and Tom may be nice, respectful people, the word we want is “respectively,” which means “individually and in the order already mentioned.” With “respectively,” we understand that Dan is the lawyer and Tom is the doctor. With “respectfully,” all we know is that they aren’t jerks.

Peaked and Piqued – This one I kind of understand. You might at first glance think “peaked” could mean “brought to a point” or “elevated;” something along those lines. It does not … but the mistake is understandable. “Peaked” simply means “ending in a peak,” or, with a different pronunciation, “sickly.” What it does not mean is to “stimulate” or “excite.” “Piqued” is the word you want in that case: “Star Trek piqued my interest in science as a child.” “I thought you were boring at first, but you’ve piqued my curiosity.”

These are the sort of errors you could probably get away with in speech, because the words sound so similar. In writing, though, they’re a bit more glaring. These aren’t the biggest grammar mistakes people make, sure, but they’re mistakes none the less. And we’re here to fix those. Besides, why would you ever pass up a chance to use a cool word like “piqued?”