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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?"
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In the meantime, I started wondering if the phrase hair's breadth was too out of date, possibly trite and overused in an action scene of a fantasy book, so I went to look it up online .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 .however, I still wonder if it's too out of date.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?