Word-Song 1: Palette, Palate, and Pallet

A few weeks ago, a friend and I were at a café, editing some website copy. My friend wrote down the word palette, but had meant to write palate. I pointed out the error and made the correction, but not before my word-song habit kicked in. I started singing a song made famous by Mississippi John Hurt, "Make Me a Pallet on Your Floor." But wait, that’s pallet, a different word. I was surrounded by homophones.

Editors must catch homophones (words that sound alike but differ in meaning) before going to print. It's easy to be lulled into complacency by the similar sounds and miss the misspellings.

Here are some suggestions for remembering palate-related spellings. Mississippi John Hurt’s song refers to a small, hard, or temporary bed, a pallet. Think about the hard bed, and then think of the hard surface of a wooden mallet; except for the first letter, the two words are spelled the same way. Palate refers to a sense of taste or the roof of the mouth separating the mouth from the nasal cavity. Take the first a away and you have plate, which relates to food, and eventually the mouth and taste. A palette is a painter’s tool, a thin board that holds different paint pigments for mixing. Conjure up the French Impressionistic painters for the French-like ette to stick in your mind.

Check out Mississipi John Hurt singing "Make Me a Pallet on Your Floor" here.