Wednesday, September 26, 2012

A Hair's Breadth or a Hare's Breath?


One gray afternoon in the Northwest, my youngest daughter was doing her grammar lesson and she said to me, "this book doesn't make any sense. It says there are no rules for knowing whether certain words are compound words, hyphenated, or used as two separate words. To discover which to use, use a dictionary."

I replied, "That's true. I don't rely on spell check for many things, but I rely on it for those. The other day I tried using two separate words that I should have known were two separate words as one. Hair's breadth is two words with an apostrophe . . .which seems kind of obvious when I'm not in the middle of writing a story."

"What? Hare's breath?"

"You know like a measurement of a really tiny distance," I said.

"What? How do you measure that?" She started laughing. "Who measure's a hare's breath? and how would you do that? Would you have the hare breathe and then measure how far it traveled?"

"Wait, what? No, a hair, you know like the hair on the top of your head, a hair's breadth."

"Your hair doesn't breathe, mom," she said, still laughing.

I started laughing too. "No, no, like b-r-e-a-d-t-h, it's a word that measures a distance. You mean, you thought I said hare like a bunny?"

"Yes."

We laughed and giggled non-stop for about ten minutes, occasionally gasping out, "hare, breath, measurement."

Maybe someday I'll find a way to use "hare's breath" as a standard of measurement in one of my stories.

In the meantime, I started wondering if the phrase hair's breadth was too out of date, possibly trite and overused in an action scene of a fantasy book, so I went to look it up online . . . and found it at dictionary.com, and the Merriam-Webster site with the synonym "hairbreadth" and I realized that the last is the one I wanted to use in my story  . . .however, I still wonder if it's too out of date.

Ever had a funny homonym moment in conversation before?

What do you think about hairbreadth, or hair's breadth, or hare's breath?

17 comments:

Cherie Reich said...

Aww! That's great! I keep imagining a scientist trying to measure a hare's breath. ;)

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I laughed throughout that whole conversation!

L.G.Smith said...

Okay, if the bunny had been drinking you might get away with a hare breathalizer measurement. Just saying. :P

I love it when kids hear things "literally." So funny.

Angie said...

That is funny. I think lots of common sayings are misunderstood.

Tyrean Martinson said...

Cherie - That would be funny!

Alex - glad to make you smile :-)

L.G. - a breathalizer bunny instead of an energizer bunny? and yes, "literally" is a fun word . . .even when adults (like me) use it.

Angie - it happens a lot in our household . . . don't ask me why.

M Pax said...

That had to be a fun conversation.

I was having a conversation with a friend in the UK via internet. She wrote about the Big Macs. I thought she was talking about hamburgers, but she was talking about the secret service. Yeah, that conversation got very interesting. lol

Trisha said...

I want to go and hug a little hare now! :D

Tyrean Martinson said...

M Pax - Big Macs can be the secret service in the UK? - Wow, that would be an interesting conversation.

Trisha - Sweet! :D

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

Aren't kids fun. Sometimes we do by pretending we misunderstand.

Suze said...

I think kids are extremely literal early on and that hair's breadth is still something you could definitely use in fiction.

quietspirit said...

Yep, all kids are definitely literalists. I enjoyed reading your conversation with your daughter. It made me chuckle.

Tyrean Martinson said...

Susan - we've done that before too!

Suze - they definitely are . . .and I plan to anyway.

quietspirit - good! I'm glad I made you smile. :-)

Tara Tyler said...

i love educating my boys & confusing them with old zingers! if its part of your character's MO or even the setting, use it!

Nickie said...

Haha, I love this! One time I asked my mom what "je ne sais qoi" meant, and she said "I don't know, what?"

I said "That's why I'm asking you." We went back and forth for a couple of minutes before I realized that she was defining "je ne sais qoi" for me as "I don't know what". We both laughed our butts off.

Barbara Watson said...

Hhhaaa! Cute. When I think something might be out of date but want to use it anyway, I have my MC's say, "It's what my dad/mom/grandma says anyway." But I write for kids...so I can get away with that. :-)

Laurel Garver said...

That conversation was hilarious! Double homophone trouble!

There are loads of really old terms we still use like "on tenterhooks" which comes from hand weaving, which started disappearing in the 1830s when machine weaving came in.

Riley Aeryn said...

I thought it was hare's breath, because a hare has tiny lungs and a rapid heartbeat so it would breathe rapidly. I always wondered about that.