Luke Taylor

Grammar Grater®

with Luke Taylor

Episode 17: An eerie discovery

On the bus this week, I happened to sit within earshot of a couple avid fishermen who were talking about their reluctance to go out on a windy day. "There were whitecaps on the lake," one of them said, "so I was feeling a little eerie about going out in the boat."

Our friend the fisherman—not to be confused with Fisherman's Friend™, the frightfully flavored yet oddly effective throat lozenge—had confused the words eerie and leery. It's easy to do. The words rhyme, and they both have a sense of foreboding (for boating?)about them. However, it's unlikely that many people would intentionally describe themselves as eerie. The word eerie actually means "strange and frightening." The word leery, however, means "cautious or wary" and would have been the better choice to describe the would-be fisherman's feelings.

One way to keep these words straight is to think about them as "inside-out." Leery is how we would feel inside if we saw or heard something eerie outside.

Because leery is synonymous with wary, it's worth mentioning that this latter word is sometimes confused with weary. While wary is defined as "cautious about possible dangers or problems," weary just means "tired."

If the right circumstances aligned, it would actually be possible to use all four of these words in a single sentence:
Weary from a long drive and wary about driving at night, we found an eerie-looking hotel that made us a little leery about checking in.
Hmm... isn't that the way every episode of "Scooby Doo" began?

Source: The Oxford Dictionary of Current English.

Songs from this Episode: "Red Right Hand" by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds; "Fisherman's Blues" by The Waterboys; "Mi Basta Chiudere Gli Occhi E" by Nino Rota; "Cemetry Gates" by The Smiths.

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