[thechat] I Wanted a Burger, Not a Burgher

Business 2.0 - Site Unseen newsletters at business2.com
Tue Dec 4 13:06:46 CST 2001

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I Wanted a Burger, Not a Burgher

By Stephanie Clifford

Eunuchs and Unix; boars, Boers, boors, and bores; gorillas and
guerrillas. How to tell them apart? Alan Cooper's Homonym List breaks
down the differences between words that sound similar but have divergent

Word enthusiasts -- yes, you with the dictionary on your nightstand --
will be surprised by some of Cooper's finds. Take, for example, "cere,"
"sear," "seer," and "sere": Cere is the waxy fleshy covering at the base
of the upper beak of some birds, sear is to scorch, a seer is a prophet,
and sere is the natural succession of plant or animal communities. Even
if wordplay has as much appeal to you as watching your co-workers play
Twister, Cooper's lively definitions will prove entertaining. Beer,
offered as a homonym to bier (a temporary frame for a coffin), is
defined as "universally brewed comfort food."

Those who wallow in linguistic minutiae -- and those who have to find
holiday gifts for those sorts of people -- will be similarly pleased
with two engaging works on words and phrases. The first, Charles
Harrington Elster's Big Book of Beastly Mispronunciations reviews words
such as "affluent" and "flaccid," exploring their varied histories to
pinpoint the correct pronunciations. Frequent opinionated barbs make the
book entertaining enough to read for pleasure. The same goes for
Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable an intriguing look into the
origins of cliches, sayings, and nomenclature that's sure to sharpen
your Trivial Pursuit game.

Sites Mentioned:

Alan Cooper's Homonym List

Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable

Big Book of Beastly Mispronunciations


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