Misheard words make mud pies of meaning. I think we all experience that. We all know that feeling of having been misusing a word for ages, and then finding out what the correct word you meant to use really is. It feels like the world suddenly shifts and a little bit of clarity settles around you, if only for a moment. Every time it happens to me—every single time—the words “Oh, THAT makes much more sense” tumble out of my mouth.
I confess that I am waging a war against a living, breathing language that will always change, and to be sure, I embrace those changes when they arise from a need. I will, however, fight back when these changes come from something as silly as being misheard. After all, how can we figure out what a word means if it does not mean what it is supposed to mean? At that point, it’s all just random mish mosh, and we can all just stop learning root words in order to better understand English. We lose words as we drop the actual word we mean, favor of another similar word. We then press it into service for two totally unrelated meanings. Clarity suffers. It’s tragic.
For instance, in my line of work, I have several dress forms, but I have no mannequins. Not a single one. Some people might think I’d need one, but I don’t have a fancy place to display my work, nor do I have a retail space, so they seem very unnecessary. Some people might have their eyebrows all screwed up right now wondering why I am talking tangerines and navels. In short, a dress form and a mannequin are not the same thing. Not at all. A dress form is that fabric-covered thing that somewhat resembles the human body. Somewhat, in that generally they are a bit flat in the butt and they have no heads. It is meant for use in pattern making. It it has perfect posture, usually no arms, or an arm that comes off. You can pin to it, the shoulders often compress and latch so you can get your muslin on and off, and the whole thing raises and lowers to accommodate the height of the person the garment is being made for.
A mannequin is that hard plastic/fiberglas/paper maché version of an idealized person in a striking pose, meant to display finished garments to advantage. You can’t pin to it. You can’t easily drape/make patterns on it. Though a dress form may be used for display, a mannequin is not interchangeable with a dress form.
That stuff you sew with—the stuff on the spool that you put through a needle, or run through a sewing machine—that is called thread. You thread your sewing machine with thread. It’s not string. It’s not rope. It’s thread.
When you thread your needle, you can hem your skirt. When you are finished, it will be hemmed. It will never, ever be hammed. I mean really, why would you want to smear preserved pork all over your hard work? That’s just weird.
The pointy metal thing you replace in your sewing machine after every sewing project is called a needle. What? You don’t change your needle? Don’t be silly. Needles wear out. They get dull. they get burrs and snag your fabric. They get burrs especially when you strike a pin that you have not removed from your seam. Pins are those long thing sharp things with no holes in them. They have a pointy end on one side and a head, or bead on the other. They are used to temporarily secure two or more pieces of fabric together for sewing. They are not to be confused with hand sewing needles which are the love child of sewing machine needles and pins. They are pointy on one side and have a hole, or eye on the other for the thread. You stitch with them. Yes, hand sewing needles cannot be the love child of a sewing machine needle, because they came first, but leave me my analogy. I think it works for our purpose.
Though a serger may surge along, it’s still a serger—or sometimes an overlocker, depending on where you live. An overlocker knits thread over the edge of a seam. A serger has knives that cut at the same time. Serger and surger are not the same thing. They are homophones. If you use the word surger instead of serger, everyone will know you are a novice—that or you just want a extra nice head on your Guinness. This, however is not compatible with a serger.
All hail satin! I always giggle when I see this because satin is indeed Satan’s fabric. It’s slippery and often more trouble than it’s worth to work with—except for silk satin. THAT is god’s fabric. Satin: fabric made with long floats so as to make a smooth, shiny surface. It it is usually found made from silk, polyester or the for-all-that-is-holy-avoid-at-all-costs acetate. The other word you are thinking of when you say “Hail Satin”? That’s Satan: Another name for Beelzebub.
Waist is that part of your body that is above your hips, and below your chest. It’s bendy. Waste, however, is that stuff you throw away. “Waist not, want not” makes no sense, but “waste not, want not” does. Your waist is not waste. No one will know what you mean if you give the measurement of your waste, or worse yet they might take you at your word and …oh just… no.
Shoes have heels, not heals. Heels are those things on the bottom of your shoes that make you taller. Heals is the 3rd person present tense of what doctors and nurses do. It’s not even what a dog is supposed to do when you walk it, which is to stay by your left heel. Much like a heel, who is so contemptible as to be only at the level of your heel. But you would never waste time with a heel, because you are so well heeled.
I know that it took my young self ages to be able to spell “does” correctly. It, like many English words, does not follow the rules. I kept wanting to spell it “dose”, because “does” is more than one female deer, no? Here’s another: Hose are those sheer things one wears on one’s legs, often required garments for women who work in offices. Hoes is the plural of that long-handled garden tool with a spade at the end. You might use it to weed, or dig furrows, but never as a covering for your legs.
Finally, if you do a lot of fanciful sewing, you will find that it comes with special perks. We costumers have restrooms and parking spaces routinely reserved just for us. Really! One day, I am going to be in full costume when I see one of these signs and I will be sure to make a big production of it. It will probably only be funny to me, because I’ll be flouncing in front of the person who wrote that sign, and that person will simply be wondering who the crazy lady is. Maybe a flashmob would be better.