Peer or pier?

24 Jun

English spelling is rife with these short words that sound the same and cause trouble. Just look at pare and pear and pair, or bear and bare, or peek and peak. But just like those, these two are very different, and their meanings don’t overlap at all!

To peer is to look with concentration or difficulty – “I peered at the dusty manuscript in the dim light”. It also means to be just visible – “the sun was peering around the side of the mountain” (the origin of this meaning may be from appear in 16th century dialect). A peer is a member of the nobility in Britain and Ireland, or a person of same age, status, rank or ability as oneself *my peers in the business world are a group of women who set up businesses a few years ago when they were around 40″. As an extension of this, it can mean simple equal (in quality) – “as an editor, he has no peer”.

A pier is any long narrow structure e.g. leading out to sea for boats to more on or for entertainment, or projecting from an airport terminal giving access to planes. It is also the pillar of an arch or pillar supporting a bridge, wall between windows or adjacent openings. Its origin is unknown.

“I peered at the pier through the mist as my peers danced away, celebrating their business success with some peers of the realm.”

You can find more troublesome pairs here and the index to them all so far is here.


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