Opinion: How I wound up with a wound from heteronyms

By Tara Jacoby for The Washington Post

John Ficarra was the editor of Mad magazine from 1985 to 2018.

The English language has something to confuse or annoy just about anyone — the mysteries of who and whom usage, the e.g. vs. i.e. standoff, the polarizing Oxford comma. I have a long-standing, personal problem with heteronyms — words that are spelled the same but don’t sound alike. Allow me to explain with a little story.

In order to graduate from the graduate program at my university, every student was required to take part in a group discussion of heteronyms. My group asked me to take the lead which, alas, went over like a lead balloon.

I now know that when trying to perfect one’s thinking for the perfect presentation on heteronyms, you must project confidence in your project and be content with the content. I was not.

Shy by nature, I do not live to give live presentations. Nor am I very articulate, so it’s always been difficult for me to articulate my points.

The teacher, as if able to intimate my most intimate fears, knew this. Like a food fighter at a buffet, he immediately began to buffet me with criticisms. He raised minute points every minute. I made a futile attempt to object to being made the object of his ridicule. I told the teacher his conduct was unacceptable and this was no way to conduct a class. He told me my arguments were invalid and I was being an emotional invalid.

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