I’ve seen a few blog posts and articles mentioning something being “packed to the gunnels” and I’ve been getting all steamed up about the mistake, knowing it should be “packed to the gunwales”. So, I decided to write up one of my Troublesome Pairs to differentiate them.
A gunwale is the upper edge or planking of the side of a boat. By extension, we tend to use “packed to the gunwales” as a metaphor for something being full up, as if a boat is literally packed to its gunwales, it will be completely full up to the brim.
A gunnel is … an alternative spelling for gunwale. So I apologise to the writers against whom I have fulminated. Luckily, I didn’t mention it to anyone before I checked! And I still prefer gunwales, myself.
Note: they are pronounced the same: “gunnel(s)”.