Mr. Language Man Strikes Again

February 14, 2009

My Wife's Card - Isn't She Romantic?

This Valentine’s Day evening my wife, daughter and I were eating a lovely meal prepared by said wife (I did the dishes, daughter bought the vino), when the subject of the evening turned to food . . . more precisely, food that is delivered by grateful former patients to my daughter’s nurses’ station at the hospital. She said that usually it’s in the form of baked goods – cakes, pies, cupcakes, muffins – but this morning two McDonalds bags showed up, one stuffed with breakfast sandwiches (McMuffins, etc.) and the other with crunchy, delicious hash browns. “Finally, something practical!” she exclaimed.

I reflected on the breakfast provided each Wednesday morning by our friends from Shamrock Title – Colossal-brand (and -sized) doughnuts, breakfast burritos from Anita’s, and the occasional muffin – and my wife commented that, just maybe, someone might occasionally like to have some fruit, and suggesting that I could bring some. My response was that we appeared to have only one vegan (pronounced by me “vay-gan”), which elicited the interjection, “vee-gan!” from my daughter.

My kids are always on my butt for saying “Marry-o” instead of “Mah-rio” whether referring to Nintendo or Batali, and I acknowledge that my pronunciation skills are not up to my spelling and usage standards. Still, it intrigues me why we would say “vee-gan” when we don’t say “vee-gatarian” or “veeg-tables.” Why don’t we say “veh-jan?”

Mr. Language Man

Mr. Language Man

And now that Mr. Language Man is loose, why are so many otherwise knowledgeable and intelligent and seemingly erudite people caught up in the “loose” vs “lose” problem? Every day I see another article – often an article in a supposedly edited source – that misuses “loose” in place of “lose.”

Clearly, this had nothing to do with it being Valentine’s Day, but so what.

And yes, we will eventually get to “affect” and “effect.” Keep your shirt on.

Mr. Language Man

February 6, 2009
Mr. Language Man

Mr. Language Man

I’m neither an English major nor an accomplished writer, but that minor lack of qualifications won’t keep me from my self-appointed role of Mr. Language Man.

I read a lot of blogs and news items on the web. I subscribe to several magazines and even a couple of newspapers. (Gasp! How archaic!) I am always disappointed when the authors/writers/editors, even the professionals (of which there are fewer and fewer), can’t be bothered to understand the basic tool of their trade – language.

My most recent vexation – and I have many, but let’s keep our focus – is peek vs. peak vs. pique. Three perfectly good words, all of which mean different things but sound the same (that’s a three-way homophone). For good measure, there is piqué, which looks similar to pique but is pronounced differently (pee-KAY). I can’t tell you how often in the past week I have seen the three words misused, but whenever I peek at one of these manglings, my pique reaches a peak. Thus this post from Mr. Language Man.


Let's peek!

peek (verb):

– To glance quickly.
– To look or peer furtively, as from a place of concealment.
– To be only partially visible, as if peering or emerging from hiding: Tiny crocuses peeked through the snow.

peek (noun):

– A brief or furtive look.

peak (noun):


Pike's Peak

– A tapering, projecting point; a pointed extremity: the peak of a cap; the peak of a roof.
– The pointed summit of a mountain.
– The mountain itself.
– The point of a beard.
– A widow’s peak.
– The point of greatest development, value, or intensity: a novel written at the peak of the writer’s career.
– Physics The highest value attained by a varying quantity: a peak in current.
–  The narrow portion of a ship’s hull at the bow or stern.
– The upper after corner of a fore-and-aft sail.
– The outermost end of a gaff.

peak (verb):


Peak production

– To raise (a gaff) above the horizontal.
– To bring to a maximum of development, value, or intensity.
– To be formed into a peak or peaks: Beat the egg whites until they peak.
– To achieve a maximum of development, value, or intensity: Sales tend to peak just before the holidays.

peak (adjective):

– Approaching or constituting the maximum: working at peak efficiency.

pique (noun):

interesting– A state of vexation caused by a perceived slight or indignity; a feeling of wounded pride.

pique (verb):

– To cause to feel resentment or indignation.
– To provoke; arouse: The portrait piqued her curiosity.
– To pride (oneself): He piqued himself on his stylish attire.

And the other piqué (noun):


Piqué knit fabric

– A tightly woven fabric with various raised patterns, produced especially by a double warp.

So, there you have everything you ever wanted to know about peek/peak/pique/piqué but were afraid to ask. If you are ever afraid to ask, by the way, you might try just looking stuff up:

The Elements of Style (Strunk & White)

Bryson’s Dictionary for Writers and Editors (Bill Bryson) 

Bryson’s Dictionary of Troublesome Words: A Writer’s Guide to Getting It Right (Bill Bryson) 

Grammarama (Kraken) – an online reference

Until next time, when Mr. Language Man takes on affect and effect . . .