I made that word up after reading this comment on another blog:
"Pizza can definitely be done cheaper at home than from the frozen foods isle or even from the delivery joint."
When I read that bit about the “frozen food isle,” I pictured an idyllic South Pacific scene: The surf gently breaking on the shore, the sun gleaming on white sand, and palm trees gently swaying over the cases full of ice cream and microwave dinners.
And then my reverie broke, and I realized the writer meant aisle, and not isle. And I experienced a moment of homophonophobia: an extreme negative reaction to the wrong word of a homophone pair.
Homophones are words that are pronounced the same way, but mean different things. And they are frequently spelled differently. Bear and bare, for example.
(Note that a homophone is not the same thing as a malapropism. That’s when you use a word that sounds almost like the word you should have used. I recently ran across a dandy example, where someone was writing about having trouble with the stylist that came with their smartphone. I’m sure they meant stylus. If not, that phone comes with some amazing accessories.)
Whenever I see someone use a homophone for the word they should have used, I am jolted out of following the sense of the text, and I say to myself, “Oh, that’s not at all what they meant to say.”
If someone were to write that “The Bill of Rights guarantees American citizens the right to bare arms,” I would ask them which amendment says we can rip the sleeves off our shirts. (Occasionally, I’ll burst into a giggling fit over the mental image that my witticism evokes. Yes, I am easily amused.)
Homophone abuse is insidious; spell checkers will not tell you that you’ve used the wrong word, and neither will grammar checkers. (There’s nothing grammatically wrong with “the frozen food isle,” or “the right to bare arms.”)
There are several homophone lists on the web; however, very few of them include definitions for the words, which limits their usefulness. I did find one that included links to definitions for each included word. You can find that list here.