Dire Strai(gh)ts

Headline in Huffington Post on February 21, 2012:

Expert: The Country is in Dire Straights

Was the country perhaps sailing through the Straits of Hormuz, the Straits of Gibraltar, or some other “narrow passage of water connecting two seas or two other large areas of water,” per the Compact Oxford English Dictionary?

To set the perpetrators straight, the big cheeses at Huffington Post need to explain to them the confusion inherent in the homonyms straight and strait.* At the same time, they should make sure their writers understand that strait(s) is also “used in reference to a situation characterized by a specified degree of trouble or difficulty” (ditto) – the reason the floppy-sleeved restraint for the poor soul in the rubber room is spelled straitjacket.

*For lots more examples, see Hazardous Homonyms.

One Response to Dire Strai(gh)ts

  • Erik Kowal says:

    I fear the battle for ‘strait and narrow’ has largely been lost to ‘straight and narrow’, especially in the USA.

    The ultimate source of the phrase is the Gospel of Matthew (Chapter 7, Verse 14) in the King James Version of the Bible: “Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it”. Conflation has reduced the Bible verse to ‘strait and narrow’, which has in turn been twisted into ‘straight and narrow’.

    ‘Strait-laced’ and ‘straitjacket’ both appear to be following a similar trajectory towards oblivion. I have also seen ‘straightened circumstances’; no bender necessary.

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