Which Word Wednesday: Palate, Palette, and Pallet

By May 25, 2011 language No Comments

Only once before has Which Word Wednesday hosted a triplet—that post featured foreword, preface, and introduction. Today’s match up is a trio of homophones, all pronounced the same but spelled differently to designate their contextual usage.

Let’s look to the definitions from the Oxford American Dictionary:

palate :: noun
the roof of the mouth, separating the cavities of the nose and the mouth in vertebrates; a person’s appreciation of taste and flavor, esp. when sophisticated and discriminating

palette :: noun
a thin board or slab on which an artist lays and mixes colors

pallet :: noun
a straw mattress; a portable platform on which goods can be moved, stacked, and stored, esp. with the aid of a forklift.

Three words, three distinct meanings. And every time I need one of them, I have to look them up! So today’s WWW is a treat for me, because I do believe that Mark Davidson has a memory hook that will stick! In his Right, Wrong, and Risky: A Dictionary of Today’s American English Usage, Davidson tells us how to remember the two that begin with p-a-l. Here’s what he says:

The –ate in palate should help you remember that palate means “the roof of the mouth” or “the sense of taste.” The –ette in palette, like the –ette in kitchenette, should help you remember the “small” in its definition: “a small board on which an artist mixes pigments for paintings.”1

Davidson has no memory hook for the third word, pallet. This word is a catchall, with a total of six meanings (I provided the most common two from OAD). If I can keep the other two straight, however, I think this third one will be used correctly by default. I guess I could say that the double ls signify the boards on a crate or pieces of straw in a mattress . . . I’m not sure those will help. Time will tell!

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What’s my WWW verdict? Homophones are tricky, and that’s that. I need memory hooks to keep them lined up properly in my brain.

What’s your verdict? Does this trio trip you up? Do you have a memory hook for keeping them straight? Do share in the comments.

Check out previous Which Word Wednesday verdicts here.

1. Mark Davidson, Right, Wrong, and Risky: A Dictionary of Today’s American English Usage (New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company, 2006), 401.

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