Those homonym blues

You never fully realize how hard the English language is until you work with a student for whom English is a second language.
This particular student is an excellent story teller. She’s “a compulsive observer of the human condition,” as the saying goes, which is a fancy way of describing how she loves watching people being people. In doing do she draws delightful and insightful observations which she conveys in the most interesting ways.
All of which means this person is without question a writer.
If only she didn’t have to write in English.
I hasten to point out that while she grew up in a Spanish speaking household, she speaks English quite well. It’s just that every time we sit down to edit her work it seems we stumble upon yet one more quirk about the language that one doesn’t notice until one writes. The other day it was homonyms.
In a lovely piece about the birth of her child, this promising young writer talked about her “do” date. Actually, it’s a “due” date I had to explain. Giving birth is something you might “do” on your “due” date, I pointed out. Of course, if you left for the hospital early in the morning there is a chance you noticed “dew” on the grass.
Oh boy.
Later in the story she wrote about eating a “hole” burrito. Let’s make that a “whole” burrito, I said. You can eat a “whole” burrito to fill up a “hole” in your stomach caused by hunger, I pointed out, not very cleverly, I admit, to explain the difference.
And still later, she wrote of someone coming “threw” for her which we had to change to “through.” You can write how someone “threw” a ball “through” the air, I said.
I appreciated her patience and told her so.
“I understand,” she responded. “You’re just trying to help me write right.”
At least her frustration with homonyms hadn’t damaged her sense of humor.

Ed Ackerman