“Lie”, “lay” and, er, “arroyo”

Words that confuse us every day.

I stumbled onto a site called Confusing Words a few minutes ago. The fourth most popular confusing word is “arroyo”. I know of the word. I know that there’s a thing called an “arroyo canyon” (4760 hits via Google). They’re both terms that I associate with American geography. I don’t actually know what “arroyo” means1, and don’t know how the word might be confusing, unless it is that the word is Spanish. Without a brief description or illustrations, it’s not going to mean anything to native speakers of English (apart from geographers) or people in those parts of the US where there are arroyos.

Be that as it may, why would it be the fourth most popular confusing word? The number of instances where it’s used in an English context must be quite small. It’s not in general use in English. It probably gets used in cowboy novels to impart local flavour.

As for the fifth most popular confusing word, that’s “canyon”. Now there’s a word I do know even if it’s another one that’s largely restricted to the geography of the United States. I’m left wondering why it’s confusing, and why a word which, like “arroyo”, isn’t exactly in general use in English should be ranked fifth.

Notes.

1. After a couple of clicks, I find that it’s the Spanish word for “brook” or “stream”.

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