This Troublesome Trio was suggested to me by the ever-helpful Linda from Linda Proofreads – thank you! Those among you with good memories will recall that she’s suggested pairs before – they can’t be infinite but I certainly haven’t thought of them all yet.
So three words with very different meanings that are spelled differently but are all pronounced the same.
Sere is an adjective (and a literary one at that) which means “withered” and can also be spelled sear, and I always thought it meant dry and kind of nobly so, so that shows it’s always worth looking things up in a variety of sources before you confidently bung down what you think something means from your vast experience, etc. It’s also a fairly new word (only around 120 years old) for a series of animal or plant communities which have been formed from succession, for example the endless lavender plants that my garden produces, one from the other but still in the same area.
A seer is a person who can see visions of the future, a prophet or the like. Seer can also be used in a very old-fashioned way to describe someone who sees a specific thing, but I would shy away from using it in that sense, to be honest. It’s also an Asian unit of weight. Who knew?
To sear (a verb) means to burn or even scorch something with an intense and sudden heat, and is often used to describe browning meat or other foods at a high temperature. As an extension into a metaphor, something can be seared into your memory of mind, fixed there, the vision of something which you can’t now “unsee”, for example. A searing pain is a strong and sudden burning sensation.