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All's fair to a fare-thee-well

updated: 11/27/2018 3:09 PM

To, two, too. There, their, they're.

Sounds like I'm warming up my vocal cords for an aria.

These groups of homophones are so popular that T-shirts are made about them. I would hope you don't find them challenging to differentiate anymore.

There is another grouping that still makes me rush to the dictionary, as it did just before I started writing this column: fair, fare, faire.

It probably has a lot to do with the breadth of definitions and parts of speech.

I was responding to a poll about favorite books from my youth. My response was that I had read just about everything in my parents' bookshelves by the time I was 8, including the treacly "Jonathan Livingston Seagull."

"Not exactly kid fare," I wrote. But I wrote that only after checking to make sure it also wasn't "kid faire" or "kid fair."


As an adjective, "fair" can describe weather, car deals, something that is neither good nor bad, hair color, complexions, the lack of clouds in the sky and more. It often connotes reasonableness.

The word casts a wide net.

"Fair" also can be used as an adverb that describes how we conduct ourselves, whether in the board room, on the sporting field or at cribbage with our younger sister. "You don't play fair," mine might say as she gets double-skunked.

As a noun, "fair" is a type of exhibition or festival: a trade fair, a job fair, a world's fair, a church fair, a county fair. The more I look at the word "fair" the less certain I am of its meaning.


This is the lesser-known homophone. It's used both as a verb and as a noun. "How are you faring on that gardening project?" your significant other might nag. "That sequoia isn't going to transplant itself."

It speaks to performance or the ability to get along.

"Fare" as a noun relates to a form of payment or a person who would offer said payment.

"It's late," said the Lyft driver. "You're going to be my last fare for the night."

"Fare," as in the case of my childhood reading habits, describes an array or range of things. It's often used to describe a restaurant's food and drink. Think "bill of fare."


This is a bit of a red herring. "Faire," by and large, is quaintifying word (yeah, I just made that up.) Think "Olde Tyme County Faire." Cute, yes, but silly. I found a "Country Faire" magazine, a "Country Faire Village" and even a "Country Faire Laundry."

Back in the 16th century, William Shakespeare used "faire." This is from "Twelfth Night":

"Which turn'd my sport into a hart's despair,

Which still is chac'd while I have any breath,

By mine own thoughts, sett on me by my faire;

My thoughts, like hounds, pursue me to my death."

As you can see, Shakespeare spells a lot of things differently from how we spell them today.

"Faire" in legitimate modern usage is a French word meaning "to make."

You've used it in "laissez faire," which is defined as an attitude of letting things take their course, without interfering. Or "savoir faire," defined as the ability to act appropriately in social situations -- which is something completely foreign to me.

Write carefully!

• Jim Baumann is vice president/managing editor of Paddock Publications, owners of the Southern Illinois LOCAL Media Group. rite him at, with Grammar Moses in the subject line and add your hometown. You can friend or follow Jim at

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