The Wisdom of Confusions

One mustn’t confuse a scintilla
with the Antilles
A scintilla is small
The Antilles, also. But on a larger scale.
A scintilla is closer to an iota,
not to be confused with Antarctica.
An iota is dotless.
Antarctica is dotted with penguins.
This is how you tell them apart.

Iota is a letter i.
Lambda is a letter l.
Alpha is an upside-down ox-head
not to be confused with Oxford,
a shallow place where oxen cross.

One mustn’t confuse a giraffe.
They are unwieldy at the best of times
unhinged from gravity or direction
they are more deadly than a rhinoceros,
not to be confused with rhinitis,
which is not deadly,
merely irritating, and besides,
is nearly extinct.

Let us not worry about the dead.
Let us not confuse the lettuce with the leaf,
they are not synonymous,
but homophonosynonymous.
Lief us not fear the rusting of our mortal coil

the sproinging and that final ping
of coils to the left of us,
coils to the right of us.
Lief us not be afeared.
Not to be confused with infrared,
so subtle it must be inferred,
and doomed to outlive our kind.

Tom Howell is the author of The Rude Story of English (McClelland & Stewart), a pseudo-history of the English language. He also co-hosts an ongoing documentary series on CBC Radio One called “Ideas from the Trenches.” It’s about PhD students.

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