Word confusion Even the most self-assured scholar of English is tripped up occasionally by confusing spellings. The phrases below may be as familiar to you as your old stamping (or is it stomping?) grounds, but when it comes to spelling them, you may be in dire straights (or is it dire straits?).
Like the cat that ate cheese and then breathed into the mouse hole, I’m sure you’re waiting with baited breath (or should that be bated breath?) and chomping (or perhaps champing?) at the bit.
So let’s have a little quiz. Can you identify the correct choice for each of these well-known phrases? Hopefully you won’t miss the correct answers (given below) by a hare’s breath (hare’s breadth? hair’s breath? hair’s breadth?).
At breakfast I ate a Welsh rarebit/rabbit (a dish of melted cheese served over toast).
She served juice to wet/whet our appetites (to stimulate the appetite).
A friend in need is a friend in deed/indeed (a friend who helps in adversity is the true one).
I wracked/racked (strained with effort) my brains but couldn’t remember his name.
The judge sentenced him to life, ensuring that he got his just desserts/deserts (punishment that is deserved).
The star was busy, but in a short interview we managed to get a sound bite/sound byte (a brief, striking remark or statement excerpted from an audio or videotape for insertion in a broadcast news story).
The fly was ambushed and eaten by a large praying/preying mantis (a carnivorous insect).
The best response to teasing is to grin and bear/bare it (put up adversity with good humour).
The princess always had an aura of royalty, being to the manner/manor born/borne (used to a high position from birth).
At the Kentucky Derby the favourite horse was a shoo-in/ shoe-in, and it won easily.
Now let’s see how many you got right: Stamping grounds, dire straits, bated breath, champing at the bit, hair’s breadth, Welsh rarebit, whet the appetite, a friend indeed, racked the brains, just deserts, sound bite, praying mantis, grin and bear it, to the manner born, shoo-in.