The Truth You Don’t Need

Have you ever read the expression “in sooth” in a fantasy novel or perhaps in something by Shakespeare?

Antonio, in Shakespeare’s  Merchant of Venice uses that expression:

“In sooth I know not why I am so sad.

It wearies me; you say it wearies you.”


“To tell the truth, I don’t know why I’m so sad.

It tires me; you say you’re tired of it, too.”

Shakespeare died 505 years ago, so you can imagine that the English language of the late 1500s was quite different from what it is today.

“Sooth” is one of those archaic words that we simply don’t use anymore – except perhaps in a fantasy novel based on times so long ago, where the author uses old English terms to lend authenticity to a world of his or her own creation.

So why do I mention “sooth”? It’s because I see it misused in modern English when the author really meant to say “soothe” (to calm or make one feel better).

First, let’s get the pronunciation right. The old-fashioned term for truth is “sooth” and it rhymes with “truth.” That should make it easy to remember.

In sooth, she is long in the tooth. (In truth, she’s old.)

“Soothe” has a softer “th” sound and rhymes with “smooth.” I know that’s not helpful for the spelling but the meaning is similar.

I’ll speak softly to her and soothe her as I smooth out her wrinkled forehead.

Now you will also be able to guess what a soothsayer is. It is someone who tells the truth, but in days of old, the term was used for people who foretold the future (and people assumed he told the truth).


Here are some other troublesome words that change meaning when “e” is added.

Breath, breathe

We can feel out of breath, or take a big breath, but when the air is coming in and out of our lungs, we breathe.

Envelop, envelope

The letter goes inside an envelope (rhymes with cantelope). But when something is wrapped up, like in someone’s arms, we envelop it. Envelop rhymes with develop.

The large woman can envelop her child in a hug.

The cavalry’s job was to envelop the group of archers.

Loath, loathe

Loath is the adjective. Loathe is the verb.

I was loath to do the dishes because I loathe that job.

*** I might point out that while we might still use the word loathe, it would be rare to hear someone say they are loath to do something.


I see the above words misused very often when I’m copy-editing. If you are aware of the differences in these similar words, you will misuse them less often.

An easy way to check for these words is to use “Find” in your Word file, and type in the word you are searching for. Then check to see if you have the right word in each case.

A little tip: if you type in the word without the “e,” all the ones with “e” will also show up.

For example: Type in breath and all cases of breath will come up as well as all cases of breathe, and then you can check them all at once.


18 thoughts on “The Truth You Don’t Need

  1. Pingback: Nuts About Nuts | wordsfromanneli

    • I’ve always been a nitpicker when it comes to language and spelling and then it carried over to making sure everything else was correct. When I started writing novels, I added what I learned about writing to try to help other authors with all aspects of writing. I guess it is something I’ve been working on all my life. I got the right books to help as copy-editing guides, and that helped a lot too.

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  2. Sometimes I am shocked at these kinds of errors from people who should know better. Then I wonder if it was a typo or if they genuinely don’t know. Another one that annoys me and is SO common is “she’s such a trooper.” It should be “trouper,” but nobody seems to know that.

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    • I know what you mean, but when you see it repeated in a novel, you know it isn’t a typo. And you’re so right about trouper/trooper. There are dozens of troublesome words but we just have to keep trying to work on understanding them, especially if we intend to publish them.

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      • Oh, that’s just awful. How does it happen? Do the copy editors not know what they are doing? Do the big publishers now require the writers to handle those things?

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      • I don’t know for sure, but I do know that sometimes things creep in with the mechanics of it. For example, sometimes you think you’ve accepted some changes on Track Changes and then when the publishers are done with it, both the old and new versions show side by side in the text. Sometimes it’s just that the publishers’ copy-editors are on overload; sometimes just not as qualified as you’d like. Sometimes the author overlooks changes suggested. There’s just nothing to replace that final proofreading. I think there will always be errors creeping into a work, no matter what, but what I can’t stand is when someone publishes a completely unedited work, or they think they can do it themselves. I have yet to see an author do it perfectly on their own, no matter how good a writer they may be. Mainly I think the cost is often a factor for them, and on rare occasions it’s a case of ego.

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      • I can’t imagine editing a prose book on my own. My friend who posts as jeannieunbottled is a wonderful editor (like you), and she proofed my dissertation for me. What a relief that way. For poetry I do it myself because I think it needs to be done by the poet. But I’ve already been thinking about this for Scrap. It’s prose, but like poetry, if that makes sense. I’m not sure a copy editor can work on syntax, etc. But it will need to be looked at by someone else for sure when I’m done.

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      • I’m glad to hear that you realize that authors need someone else’s eye when finishing up the last polishing of the ms. When we write our novels (or poems, or whatever), we can go over our work many times and still miss little mistakes. That’s because our brain tells us that it says what we know it should say. A new pair of eyes does not know what it should say until they read it and so they are more likely to pick up on an error. I’ve read my own work over carefully, trying to edit it myself, and still, when I’ve had a proper editor do it, she has still found mistakes that I have missed completely because I assumed that it said what I meant it to say. I hope that makes sense. One way to better edit one’s own work (not the perfect solution, however) is to read it out loud. You’ll be surprised what you find if you try it.

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