Wordwatch Towers

A plain language guide to punctuation, grammar and writing well.

Pour or pore?

with 5 comments

English: Supermarket check out, London January...

Look at this extract from a reader’s letter published in Sainsbury’s Magazine a while back:

This (i.e. waiting in the car for her children) would normally be a thankless task, but for the companionship of the magazine, which I pour over.

Unless she gets up to very strange things indeed in her car, I am sure that what she really does while waiting for her children is ‘pore’ over the magazine. You already know what ‘pour’ means. ‘Pore’ means to study closely.

Latest sightings — June 2010

Spotted in the Guardian’s correction column:

Homophone corner: Diners are delighted at the trend because they can avoid the anxiety of pouring over a wine list stacked with often unfamiliar wines at soaring prices (Britain’s best restaurants embrace BYOB revolution, 21 June, page 9, early editions).

More commonly confused words


Written by Wordwatch

30/01/2010 at 3:45 pm

5 Responses

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  1. If she’s waiting for her children, she might be pouring a wee dram to make it all bearable–over the magazine, of course, in case she spills any. *sitting back, winded*

    Not sure about the UK, but a similar mistake here is to misuse “peruse” to mean “scan.” “Peruse” means to read carefully, but it’s very common to hear “I quickly perused the headlines.”

    Michael Farrell

    30/01/2010 at 4:27 pm

    • Hi, Michael — that’s an interesting point about ‘peruse’. I just looked it up in my Oxford Dictionary of English, and it is specifically noted as being misused to mean ‘read through quickly’ or ‘glance over’. As you rightfully say, it actually means to read thoroughly or carefully. See Oxford Dictionaries.


      30/01/2010 at 6:44 pm

  2. This post actually made me laugh out loud. Thanks.


    05/02/2010 at 1:59 am

    • Hi, Mark

      You’re welcome, and thanks for your comment. Much appreciated!


      05/02/2010 at 8:57 am

  3. From Guy Keleny in The Independent‘s Errors & Omissions column:

    Homophone horror: From a news story published on Thursday: “Officials with the state elections department took their seats at rows of what looked like school examination tables to begin pouring through some 90,000 of the ballots that were cast more than a week ago.”

    What, you may ask, were they pouring through the ballots? The sweat of hard labour presumably. It should, of course, be “poring”.

    I would like to be able to tell you about the derivation of these two words, both pronounced the same, one meaning to emit a stream of liquid, the other to examine closely. But the faithful Shorter Oxford is unable to help. Both go back to Middle English, before which their origin is obscure. Our medieval ancestors seem to have set us a little trap out of pure devilment.


    05/01/2011 at 5:34 pm

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