Column: Weary and wary
Are you familiar with the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon?
Also known as the frequency illusion, Baader-Meinhof is a cognitive bias in which a piece of information that’s recently come to your attention (i.e. a word, a phrase, a fact) suddenly seems to appear “with improbable frequency.”
If I may coin a phrase, a particular grammar error has been Baader-Meinhoffing me all week – the mix-up of “weary” and “wary.”
Although I suppose they sound a bit alike, their meanings really aren’t close to one another. Hopefully we’ll be able to quickly clear up any confusion over them.
To be “weary” is to be “lacking strength, energy or freshness.” It can also mean to be bored or annoyed, or to have your tolerance or patience exhausted. At the end of a marathon you’re likely to be weary, and you can grow weary of a four-hour lecture as well. You might grow weary of disciplining a troublesome employee and finally just fire them.
To be “wary” is to be cautious or suspicious of someone or something. If you go camping in the woods, you should be wary of ticks. If an investment offer seems too good to be true, be wary: It probably is.
There’s not much more to say on this one. While I see how an overzealous spell check program might lead to a mix-up, “weary” and “wary” simply don’t mean the same thing and should not be confused for one another. Feel free to use “Baader-Meinhoffing” whenever you like, though.