A few days ago I read a sentence that went something like, “Some television shows use social media to peak viewers’ curiosity.”

Oh no. This writer fell into the homophone trap. Homophones are words that sound the same but differ in meaning. They can be spelled the same, as in right (I have the right to free speech) and right (Make a right at this stoplight). They can also be spelled differently, as in peak (It took me five hours to reach the peak of the mountain), peek (I took a peek at the restaurant as I was walking by it), and pique (The commercial for that television show really piques my curiosity).

Homophones are tricky little things, aren’t they? They simply love tripping up people. No wonder the above-mentioned writer became confused. Even more confusing is the fact that homophones that are spelled the same are homonyms and homophones that are spelled differently are heterographs.

I know. It’s quite messy. If writers could talk to homophones, they’d probably be like:

But don’t worry. What’s important is not that you know the difference between a homophone and a homonym. What’s important is that you don’t embarrass yourself by writing something like, “I can’t wait to meat you!” or “I have a really sophisticated pallet, so I simply cannot drink Franzia” or “The recipe calls for five pealed potatoes.”

Now, because homophones and homonyms are so skilled at deceiving people, they’ve achieved celebrity status. Homophones are kind of big deals. They’re kind of famous.

O.K., so the writers at 30 Rock screwed up because those words technically aren’t homonyms. (They’re homophones.) But the show actually serves as the perfect teaching tool for getting a handle on all kinds of confusing words.


A tenet is a belief, principle, or doctrine held to be true by a person or by members of a group. A tenant is a person who rents property or occupies land.

The central tenet of Liz Lemon’s religion is blind allegiance to Oprah.

Liz Lemon Oprah

A number of strange tenants occupy Liz’s apartment building.


A horde is a large group or crowd. The word hoard can be a verb (to amass something and then stash it away) or a noun (a secret stash of money or valued objects).

Liz Lemon saw a horde of people surrounding her favorite hot dog cart.

Jenna hoards Mexican diet pills and Czechoslovakian organ-slimming pills in her dressing room.


To ensure is to guarantee something. To insure is to provide or obtain insurance on something.

Jack tries to ensure his daughter is born in America so she can legally become president.

Jack’s hair is so spectacular that he should insure it.


Pore can be a verb (to read/study attentively or to reflect steadily on something) or a noun (those openings on your face that facial cleansers promise to thoroughly clean and minimize the appearance of). To pour is to dispense from a container or to flow in a steady stream.

When Liz Lemon appeared on screen in high def, her pores looked huge.

Liz Lemon pored over the sketches.

Jack poured himself a glass of whiskey even though it was nine in the morning.

Complaints poured in to NBC after Jenna’s disastrous appearance on MSNBC.


Vain is an adjective that means conceited or unsuccessful/useless. Veins are blood vessels in your body. A vane is a blade that is attached to a wheel or axis and is pushed by wind or water (think of a weathervane).

Liz Lemon’s efforts to get out of jury duty in New York by pretending to be Princess Leia were in vain.

Liz Lemon Princess Leia

Jenna seems like the type of person who would be paranoid about developing varicose veins.

Jack Donaghy collects cookie jars, not weathervanes.


If you listen to your conscience (noun), then you act according to what you believe to be morally good, just, or fair. If you’re conscious (adjective), you’re awake, aware, and/or perceptive.

Devon Banks will do whatever it takes to get ahead; you could say that he has no conscience.

Liz Lemon is conscious; she’s just business drunk.

Liz Lemon Business Drunk



Peal can be a noun (the loud ringing of bells or a loud sound/succession of sounds) or a verb (to ring loudly). Peel can also be a noun (the outer covering of a fruit or vegetable) or a verb (to remove an outer layer of something).

Jenna gained weight while starring in ‘Mystic Pizza: The Musical.’ When the ‘TGS’ writers saw her, they burst into peals of laughter, and Jenna became embarrassed.

Jack Donaghy’s ancestors were Irish, so they probably peeled many potatoes.


The noun reign is the rule or sovereignty of a leader. The verb reign means to exercise power or authority. Reins are straps attached to the bits of a horse and used by a rider to control the horse. The confusion usually comes when people talk about free rein, or the freedom to do as one pleases. Free rein is a figurative expression that’s derived from an equestrian term; it refers to a rider loosening the reins to give a horse free motion. So even though writers frequently write free reign, it’s actually free rein. (Merriam-Webster doesn’t list free reign).

According to Jack Donaghy, the reign of Don Geiss was the golden age of General Electric.

Tracy Jordan has free rein on ‘TGS.’


The palate is the roof of your mouth; it can also refer to your sense of taste. The word pallet can refer to many different things: a straw mattress, a wooden tool for mixing or shaping clay, a portable platform on which goods can be moved, stacked, or stored. And a palette is what artists use to lay and mix colors (it can also refer to the range of colors used by a particular artist).

Night cheese and sandwiches are pleasing to Liz Lemon’s palate.

Liz Lemon Night Cheese

You may find some pallets in the janitor’s department of NBC.

Jack isn’t an artist, so you’d probably never find him painting a picture and holding a palette.


Discreet is an adjective that means having or showing discernment and good judgment. It can also mean unobtrusive or unnoticeable. Discrete is an adjective that means constituting a separate entity and individually distinct.

Dr. Spaceman is pretty outspoken and inappropriate; he’s unable to behave discreetly.

The main characters of ’30 Rock’ have discrete characteristics.


To alter is to change or modify something. An altar is an elevated structure or a table used in religious ceremonies. In a Catholic church, the altar is where the priest consecrates the bread and wine.

If Liz Lemon loses her job, she’ll have to alter her life plans: she’ll become the world’s worst hooker and charge $10,000 for snuggling.

Liz Lemon World's Worst Hooker


Liz Lemon’s ex-boyfriend Floyd converted to Catholicism for his wife. The church where they got married has an altar.


Congratulations! You’ve sorted out a bunch of homophones! Now give yourself a high five.

Liz Lemon 2