Column: Love is in the air


Commentary by Curtis Honeycutt

Did I say “love?” I totally meant to say “a snowboarder.” I love any and every competition in both the Summer and Winter Olympiads. So from bobsleds to the event where they cross-country ski and shoot a gun, today I’m going to use the Winter Games to clear the air, so to speak, on a few similar sounding words: air, heir and err.

The most common of this group of homophones is air. As a noun, air most commonly refers to the combination of gases we breathe in Earth’s atmosphere. So when Shaun White elevates far above the halfpipe, snowboarding aficionados say he gets “big air.” As a verb, air means to let out or to broadcast. Even though it happened last night, I can’t wait to watch NBC’s re-airing of the Nigerian women’s bobsled team zooming down the track.

You know what they say about the biathlon: It’s the Nordic sport of kings. OK, they never actually said that, but go with me on this one. This winter sport combines cross-country skiing and rifle shooting. In a winter biathlon gone terribly wrong, it’s possible the king of Norway could have a freak ski-and-rifle incident, leaving his heir to take the throne afterward. Heir (which is pronounced exactly like air) is the person who inherits titles, land or property following another’s death.

You’ve probably heard the saying that goes “to err is human; to forgive, divine.” When Alexander Pope wrote this he had probably never seen the skeleton competition in the Winter Olympics. If anyone errs in this 80 mph dance with death, his skeleton gets shattered and his country will never forgive him. In this case, err means to go astray or be mistaken.

I don’t quite have the air time for a few less common homophones in this incredibly homophonous cluster of words: ere (an older way of saying “before”), are (a metric land measure), e’er (an old-timey way of saying “ever”) and eyre (an English itinerant judge). I did, however, want to make sure I included them so that you didn’t think I was erring in my ways.