Which Word Wednesday: Pedal vs. Peddle

By November 3, 2010 language No Comments

My first major editing error was in a newsletter for an international ministry organization. The article headline read something like this:

Pastor Peddling for God!

Although it is possible that a pastor was hawking wares for the Lord, that’s not what the article was about. It was about a pastor who had just received a bicycle so he could pedal his way across Africa to spread the Good News of Jesus.

oops. Huge error. I was sick to my stomach when the agency called and asked me if I knew the headline used peddling instead of pedaling. As soon as the words were spoken, I knew the difference. For some reason during editing, however, my eyes were blind to the mistake.

Perhaps you already know the differences between these two homophones, but I thought it made for a good Which Word Wednesday match up. Let’s take a quick look at the Oxford American Dictionary to be sure:

pedal :: verb
move by working the pedals of a bicycle

pedal :: noun
a foot-operated lever or control for a vehicle, musical instrument, or other mechanism, in particular

peddle :: verb
try to sell (something, esp. small goods) by going from house to house or place to place

So one is a form of transportation that uses a pedal, the other is a way of earning money. The trick I see is in remembering which one to use for the situation.

Pedal is more commonly used as a noun to describe a lever that is pushed; think of the gas pedal in your car. So there is an a in automobile and gas and an a in the pedal that makes your car go. Pedal can also be a verb, referring to the propulsion of a bike using the pedals.

Peddle is a verb describing a person on the move, going from door to door, selling products; think of the Girl Scouts selling their cookies. So there are two os in cookies and two ds in peddle and two feet that take Girl Scouts door to door when they sell (peddle) their cookies.

[polldaddy poll=4028896]

My WWW verdict? You can pedal a bike, but only a salesman can peddle a car. And only a careful editor will catch commonly confused word pairs like these.

What’s your verdict? Do word pairs like pedal and peddle trip you up? Do share your most embarrassing word mix-up in the comments. Misery loves company. And don’t forget to cast your vote for the correct meaning of a homophone in the poll.

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Check out previous Which Word Wednesday verdicts here.

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