In the spirit of the back-to-school season, here’s seven (updated: eight) words Pagans often struggle with.

I seriously considered calling this The Dacne of the Sneasos:

[Tiffany looked at the title below the illustration.]

“‘The Dacne of the Sneasos’?” she said. “Is that supposed to be ‘The Dance of the Seasons’?”

“Regrettably, the artist, Don Weizen de Yoyo, whose famous masterpiece that was, did not have the same talent with letters as he had with painting,” said Miss Treason. “They worried him, for some reason. I notice you mention the words before the pictures. You are a bookish child.”

Wintersmith, by Terry Pratchett

I think there are probably a lot of us who are more comfortable with trees and spirits than with letters and words. That’s good; the Lady knows I look to them to guide and teach me when I’m not as comfortable in those realms. Since I am, like Tiffany, a bookish child, this is a small offering from my own interests to try to help all of us use language well.

These errors are probably common because most of them are homophones, that is, words that sound like each other but are spelled differently and mean different things. I’ve left out the most common homophonic mistakes: its and it’s, and their, there, and they’re, because those are far from limited to the Pagan community.

For us Pagans, these are also easy mistakes to make because some of the words aren’t as common outside our community or specialized religious discourse. A lot of us learn them as part of our new vocabulary when we become Pagan, and we may hear them in conversation before we encounter them in writing, so some of these are probably eggcorns.

When we communicate better – more clearly, more effectively, and more beautifully – we can do more with our words, whether by better sharing our experiences within our communities or by demonstrating to people unfamiliar with Paganism and Pagans that we can express ourselves well.

  • Deity vs diety
    Columbia is the deity who watches over the District of Columbia.
    (I don’t think diety is a word, but it sounds like the Power that guilts you into choosing celery instead of chocolate.)
  • Censer vs censor
    The burning coal makes the censer hot, so don’t touch it when you add the incense! (Notice the two e’s in incense to remember that they go together.)
    Thanks to the First Amendment, the government cannot censor people who want to speak or write about being Pagan in the US.
  • Altar vs alter 
    We had to cut a doorway in the circle for the paramedics because the sword fell off the altar and landed on my foot.
    Becoming Pagan altered my relationship to the environment.
  • Immanent vs imminent
    I like to worship outdoors because I believe that the divine is immanent in nature.
    The ritual was scheduled for 5pm, but we have to think about Pagan Standard Time – since it’s 5:30 now, I’d say it’s imminent.
  • Pore vs pour
    I have stains on my robe from where the priestess spilled wine when she poured it into my chalice.
    I pored over the text of the Havamal while studying the runes.
  • Edited to add: Tenants vs tenets (h/t to bohemimom42 for mentioning this)
    If the landlord found out how many candles his Pagan tenants used in their apartment, he might get better fire insurance.
    Honoring the natural world is a tenet of most forms of Paganism today.
  • Reign vs rein
    Persephone reigns as queen of the underworld.
    The fire alarm went off because the organizer gave him free rein to use as many candles as he wanted.

Okay, so that last one isn’t as specifically Pagan, but somehow I hate to see us making that mistake, because it comes from a time when humans worked with animals on a regular basis, and I’d like to see us remember that. Reins were used to control a horse: free rein meant letting the horse run, while reining in meant pulling back or limiting it. (Reign always has to do with kings and queens. Use the g in king to help you remember. – Or notice that “reign” is inside the word “sovereign.” h/t to inquisitiveraven!)

For a bonus track, I’d like to point out that I’ve seen multiple people using the not-a-word “submittal” lately to refer to something that one submits. Those are submissions, as in, “I had to edit my submission to the Pagan Pride Day handout so it wouldn’t be ten pages long.”

Happy writing!

22 thoughts on “Homophones for Pagans: Updated

  1. “Submittal” is a word in computer science — at the end of each iteration in the Agile process, you make a “submittal build” (the product of which is called simply a “submittal”), and submit that to the customer for approval. Maybe it’s leaking its way out into other spheres?

  2. My poor dyslexic brain often makes simple mistakes like those you pointed out above. Most times I catch them but some slip through. Thanks for reminding me to double check.

    1. I hope I didn’t make you feel bad about that; we all make mistakes and we all need to double-check. Hey, anytime you want a proofreader, I’ll volunteer!

  3. Bravo! I’ve got another one. The other day during an online chat, I made a reference to one of my personal tenants… Should have said tenets. *hangs head*

  4. I’ve seen the pore vs. pour one in non-pagan contexts. Also as someone who’s actually done a bit of equitation, reign vs. rein drives me nuts. I’ve seen at least one fanfic writer use “reigns” when talking about actually controlling a mount.

    Prescribe vs. proscribe is another one I see a lot. The doctor prescribed bed rest for the exhausted teacher. Eating pork is proscribed in Judaism and Islam.

    1. Yes, I’ve seen that one elsewhere too; it just saddens me when people are taking the time to look at historical sources but can’t accurately describe what they’re doing.

      Good point! I think that one trips people up because of the pro- prefix.

      1. Hmm, given that the pro- prefix usually means “for,” maybe a good mnemonic would be proscribe = forbid.

  5. I have an alternate mnemonic for the word “reign.” It’s the last syllable of the word “sovereign.”

  6. Thank you from a pagan whose introduction to this path was forged primarily through books and then validated through personal experience. Though this offense is not restricted to pagans, it drives my nuts when people talk about their analyzation of an issue. You can analyze an issue (verb) or you can offer an analysis (noun) of an issue. Under no circumstances should you ever resort to analyzation!

    1. Eeeeewww. Really? Maybe I’m lucky I haven’t seen that yet. May I promote that to the body of the post too?

      Actually, maybe I should just make this an appendix to the Wiccan/Pagan glossary…hmm.

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