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July 12, 2004

It's Poring Rein!

Research for the new Concise Oxford English Dictionary, published last week, found that the most commonly confused homonym on the internet is diffuse/defuse, found in some 50% of examples on its 300-million word database.

Second commonest is uncertainty over when to use "rein" or "reign", found in 26% of examples, as in "A taxi driver had free reign to charge whatever he likes". Third most frequent (21%) is "tow" instead of "toe", as in "Some pointed to his refusal to tow the line under Tony Blair". Fourth (12%) is "pouring" instead of "poring", as in "He spent his evenings pouring over western art magazines".

Angus Stevenson, of OUP dictionaries, said: "This seems to be something of a new situation. These errors are occurring in texts that are otherwise quite well spelt, possibly because of the increasing use of spellcheckers. Spellcheckers can tell you whether a word is correctly spelt - but not whether it is properly used. "Also, we find that people are picking up words and phrases from the media and bolting them together into fully formed sentences."

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