FREE REIGN OR FREE REIN? It’s “rein.” Microsoft Encarta says it’s the complete freedom to make decisions and take action without consulting anyone else. The Cambridge Dictionary of Idioms says “free rein” is synonymous with “allow” and “give.” If you give people, ideas, or emotions free rein, they are free to develop without the intrusion of controlling elements.
SNEAK PEAK, SNEEK PEEK, OR SNEAK PEEK? When you glance quickly and stealthily at something, it’s a “sneak peek.”
NASH, KNASH, OR GNASH YOUR TEETH? You “gnash” your teeth when you are extremely angry or upset. If you have trouble with that, think “grind,” the start with a “g” and the “nash” should follow.
IN THE NICK, KNICK, OR GNICK OF TIME? In the “nick” of time means at the last possible moment. A nick is (was) a mark put on a stick used to measure time.
THE SOLE OF DISCRETION OR THE SOUL OF DISCRETION? It’s “soul.”
BATED BREATH OR BAITED BREATH? It’s “bated.” The Cambridge International Dictionary of Idioms says, “If you wait for something with bated breath, you feel very excited or anxious while you’re waiting.”
HEAR! HEAR! OR HERE! HERE! “Hear, hear!” is used as an exclamation to show strong approval. You use this type of a phrase when applauding a dynamic speaker or following a written statement that you feel is unusually fine. Some people mistakenly write, “Here, here!” but if you remember that it means, “Listen, listen!” you’ll write it properly.
VIOLA OR VIOLA? It’s only one word, but it has several totally different meanings and pronunciations:
- A viola (vee-oh-lah) is a stringed instrument that is larger than a violin and smaller than a ‘cello.
- A viola (vye-oh-lah) is a tiny flower.
- “Voila!” (vwah-lah) is an interjection that is “used to call attention, to express satisfaction or approval, or to suggest an appearance as if by magic.”
Here’s a site with word and phrase origins, and another called The Phrase Finder.