(Most People Couldn’t)
If you took our most recent spelling quiz and were disappointed with your score or confused by the answers, this post is for you.
Keep reading for a full breakdown of the right answers, the wrong answers, and definitions of both.
A Breakdown of The Spelling Quiz That Tripped Up a Bunch of Smart Professionals
1. The facts involved a study in plain/plane geometry.
❌ WRONG – plain: Not decorated, obvious, boring, or ordinary. (We won’t argue that geometry is boring to some people, but that’s not the intended meaning here.)
✔️ RIGHT – plane: “A flat level or surface” in this case. In other words: the study of 2D shapes.
2. He spoke pidgin/pigeon English when he had to.
❌ WRONG – pigeon: It’s feathered, gray-ish, and poops all over buildings and park benches. But pigeons don’t speak an official language.
✔️ RIGHT – pidgin: A simplified speech that allows people speaking different languages to communicate. The word originated from a Chinese corruption of the word “business.” A “creole” is a complete pidgin language, such as Haitian Creole, Gullah, and Jamaican Creole, passed down to the children of adult pidgin speakers, thereby becoming a native language.
3. The defendant’s pose had him looking like a preying/praying mantis.
❌ WRONG – preying: Unless the defendant was trying to rob or extort or hurt somebody, this wouldn’t make sense.
✔️ RIGHT – praying: A praying mantis has forearms that, at rest, appear to be held together in supplication, as if it were asking God for help finding the tastiest bug treats.
4. He was given free rein/reign to prosecute everyone in sight.
❌ WRONG – reign: Think of a king—this word means “sovereignty” or “rule.” Basically, power over others, especially that of a monarch.
✔️ RIGHT – rein: “Free rein” means “unrestricted liberty of action or decision.” Like when you are riding a horse and you let go of the reins, so the horse can wander around the meadow.
5. The jury raised/razed Cain/cane all night instead of sleeping.
❌ WRONG – razed cane: This would mean the jury destroyed the cane completely, such as by lighting it on fire.
✔️ RIGHT – raised Cain: If you’re acting wildly or causing a disturbance, you’re “raising Cain.” This is actually derived from the biblical Cain, the first son of Adam and Eve. Cain killed his brother Abel and God got pretty angry.
6. He was convicted strictly on a matter of principle/principal.
❌ WRONG – principal: The scary boss of your elementary school. Or the chief or most important part or person of any organization.
✔️ RIGHT – principle: Generally used to refer to a law, rule, or doctrine.
7. The jury poured/pored over the testimony for hours on end.
❌ WRONG – poured: You know that thing that happens when you tip a glass or pitcher of water over? That’s this. But it’s not what a jury does.
✔️ RIGHT – pored: “Pore” isn’t just a hole in your epidermis. It means to carefully read, study, or look at.
8. The witness racked/wracked his brain for answers.
❌ WRONG – wracked: To wreck or ruin. Nobody should do that to their brain.
✔️ RIGHT – racked: Of its many definitions, this can mean “to stretch or strain violently.” Right and wrong, these definitions are hard on the brain.
9. Your story does not jive/jibe with the defendant’s version.
❌ WRONG – jive: We’re definitely not talking about swing dance. But we also don’t mean to lie or blurt out nonsense.
✔️ RIGHT – jibe: Prepare to have your mind blown. This oft misspoken verb means “to agree or be in accord with.” (And then there’s the “gibe” (a taunt) you heard from your bullying uncle that time you spilled the gravy at Thanksgiving dinner.)
10. A friend in need is a friend indeed/in deed.
❌ WRONG – in deed: As nice as an inheritance is, your friend didn’t die and leave you a house.
✔️ RIGHT – indeed: Meaning for sure, for real, in truth.
11. The partners insist the law firm is one, a seamless whole/hole.
❌ WRONG – hole: As in, “There’s a hole in my bucket.” Nobody wants to work for a hole or in a hole.
✔️ RIGHT – whole: The entire thing. The intact shebang. The complete enchilada.
12. The sordid testimony will definitely test one’s medal/metal/mettle/meddle.
❌ WRONG – medal: What you get if you win a race or display bravery during battle.
❌ WRONG – metal: What your medal might be made of—steel, gold, titanium, or bronze.
❌ WRONG – meddle: To act as a busybody. To be all up in somebody else’s business. To stick your nose (and probably your neck) where it doesn’t belong.
✔️ RIGHT – mettle: This is what a marathoner shows during the race before getting a medal made of metal. Stamina. Vigor. Stick-to-it-iveness.
13. At what moment did the governor declare marshal/martial law?
❌ WRONG – marshal: Federal law enforcement. Think Tommy Lee Jones and his famous: “…a hard-target search of every gas station, residence, warehouse, farmhouse, henhouse, outhouse and doghouse…”
✔️ RIGHT – martial: Related to war, a warrior, or the military. Martial law is when the military takes over like an overbearing mama.
14. The thieves were on the lam/lamb for weeks before they were apprehended in Iowa.
❌ WRONG – lamb: Cute, wooly, and fuzzy. Baby sheep.
✔️ RIGHT – lam: What you do just after you rob a bank and the police are on your tail (escape, evade, run like a baby lamb).
15. His plans for winning were all pi/pie in the sky.
❌ WRONG – pi: 3.14159265. “The symbol π denoting the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter” or the ratio itself. If you’re not into math, you shouldn’t be using this word.
✔️ RIGHT – pie: Blueberry, apple, pumpkin, etc. And because pie is never found in the sky, we are referring to something that is impossible or very improbable. Too bad. I’m sure pie tastes just as good in the sky as it does on the ground. And just remember what the hillbilly pa told his kid just home from school: “Pie aren’t square, pie are round! Cornbread’s square!”
16. The witness’s tale piqued/peaked the jury’s interest.
✔️ RIGHT – piqued: “To excite or arouse” either anger, curiosity, or resentment, “especially by a provocation, challenge, or rebuff.”
❌ (ALSO WRONG BUT NOT MENTIONED IN ORIGINAL – peeked: When you look from behind a corner or out from under a blanket.)
17. That legal argument really goes beyond the pail/pale.
❌ WRONG – pail: Remember that “hole in my bucket” from earlier? Well, if you didn’t like the word “bucket,” you would use “pail.”
✔️ RIGHT – pale: Even though this word means to be light in color, the phrase “beyond the pale” means “offensive or unacceptable.” There’s an interesting story behind this phrase’s origin in the U.K.
18. He arrived at the courthouse with a full complement/compliment of attorneys.
❌ WRONG – compliment: I tell you your dress is spectacular. You tell me my shoes are sexy. I say you look like a million bucks. And so on.
✔️ RIGHT – complement: The most common meaning is “something that fills up, completes (an easy way to remember the meaning), or makes better or perfect.” But it also means “the full quantity, number, or assortment needed or included.”
19. When all was said and done, the irresponsible plaintiff got her just deserts/desserts.
❌ WRONG – desserts: Cake, pies (see above), muffins, etc.
✔️ RIGHT – deserts: When a person breaks the law and justice is served, we say someone got what they deserved. “Deserve” (with one “s”) is the best way to remember this meaning.
20. He came within a hare’s/hairs’ breath/breadth of being named partner.
❌ WRONG – hare’s breath: If a rabbit is breathing in your face (why?), then you’d use this phrase. Otherwise, nope.
✔️ RIGHT – hair’s breadth: Think of how wide a hair is (not very). So we’re talking about a very small distance, the equivalent of saying “so close.”
All definitions are summarized (some with extreme creative liberty) from Merriam Webster.
We have hundreds of free resources, including mini grammar lessons and additional quizzes, to help you learn, practice, and ace any spelling puzzlers in your future.
Check out a few here:
- Misused Words. A great way to ensure you ace our next spelling quiz.
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- 5 Tips to Become a Better Speller. Simple, quick, effectives strategies to up your spelling game.
- We’re Grateful for Grammar Mistakes…As Long as They’re Not Ours. The title says it all. But we still encourage you to read this entertaining post.