Luke Taylor

Grammar Grater®

with Luke Taylor


Episode 11: A Triple Threat

A few weeks ago on Grammar Grater, we talked about words that sound alike but have different meanings and spellings. Words like that are called homophones, and today, we're going to have a look at a trio of homophones that can really create confusion for writers, bloggers...just about anyone.

The trio of words we'll be looking at are: palate, palette and pallet. They all sound the same, but each of these words is spelled differently and has a unique meaning. Whenever we're faced with distinguishing same-sounding words, two tools can help us: dictionaries and mnemonics (that is, devices or tricks to help our memory).

The first word, palate, refers to either a) the roof of the mouth or b) a person's ability to distinguish flavors. Pleasant foods are often described as "palatable." A helpful way to remember that palate has to do with tasting food is to notice how the word palate resembles the word plate. Both words involve eating. Yum!

Palette, meanwhile, refers to the thin board an artist mixes paints on or to the range of colors an artist uses. Here's a way to remember the meaning of this word: palette is a French word that means the same thing in French as it does in English. In a silly but not unflattering stereotype, cartoons of artists usually portray the artist as a Gallic-looking person who wears a beret and holds—you guessed it—a palette; thus, the French-looking word has to do with art. Facile, n'est-ce pas?

Last, we have pallet. This word refers to those wooden frames on which freight is stacked. (It also means a straw mattress, but I hope nobody has to sleep on one.) A way to remember this version of pallet may be to consider how those double Ls resemble the masts on a forklift—the very tool that's used for moving pallets in a warehouse, on a dock, etc.

These fun little tricks can help distinguish palate, palette and pallet. If only there was a good little trick to help remember how to spell mnemonic.

Source: Oxford Dictionary of Current English.

Songs from this Episode: "Bizarre Love Triangle" by New Order; "Bring Back the Love (Shrift Mix)" by Bebel Gilberto; "La valse d'Amélie" by Yann Tiersen.

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