Word Confusion: Swath versus Swathe

Posted February 9, 2015 by Kathy Davie in Author Resources, Editing, Self-Editing, Word Confusions, Writing

This is one of my own bête noirs. Each time I encounter the word, I must visit its page at KD Did It to make sure I’m using the right version. I’m never going to remember the difference!

A swath is strictly a noun and leaves or creates a strip of something or nothing while a swathe is both noun and verb that envelops, wraps what it encounters. Deciding which is which is complicated by the fact that the plural for swath can be either swaths or swathes. Just remember that the first is a strip that cuts through while the second wraps around.

Then again, since both are alternative spellings for the other, it doesn’t really matter as long as you’re consistent in choosing one.

Word Confusions…

…started as my way of dealing with a professional frustration with properly spelled words that were out of context in manuscripts I was editing as well as books I was reviewing. It evolved into a sharing of information with y’all. I’m hoping you’ll share with us words that have been a bête noir for you from either end.

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Swath Swathe
Credit to: Apple Dictionary.com; Your Dictionary.com

SS-302 submarine does a wide circle in the ocean trailing a wake

Image by Wwoods at en.wikipedia [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons

That wake the USS Sabalo leaves is cutting a wide swath through the Pacific.


A huge section of fabric strung across a geographical gap and a road

Image courtesy of Vita Doc

Christo Javacheff, the artist, swathed Rifle Gap, Colorado, with a huge length of fabric — 9 tons of it.

Part of Grammar:
Noun

Plural: swaths, swathes

Alternative spelling for: swathe

Noun 1

Plural: swathes

Verb, transitive 2

Plural for the noun and third person present verb: swathes
Past tense or past participle: swathed
Gerund or present participle: swathing

Alternative spelling for: swath

A row or line of grass, grain, or other crop as it lies when mown or reaped

A strip left clear by the passage of a mowing machine or scythe

A broad strip or area of something

[Figurative] A significant swath of popular opinion

Noun:
A piece or strip of material in which something is wrapped

  • A band used in swathing

An enveloping medium

To enfold or constrict

Verb:
Usually be swathed in


Wrap in several layers of fabric

[Fashion] To wrap a band, garment, etc, around, especially so as to cover completely

  • Swaddle
Examples:
She cut a swath through the town.

The combine had cut a deep swath around the border of the fields.

President Obama has lost swathes of support with the rollout of Obamacare.

Vast swaths of countryside were destroyed in the war.

Swathes of the countryside may never recover from that nuclear explosion.

Occasionally we saw wide swathes of crushed forest where elephants had passed through, leaving giant piles of dung.

Noun:
She was covered in a swathe of ruffles.

There’s a whole swathe of useful advice I could offer.

Verb:
He was swathed in bandages and left for dead.

She was swathed in red.

Her neck was swathed in jewels.

Her head was swathed in a towel.

History of the Word:
Old English swæth, swathu meaning track or trace and related to the Dutch zwad(e) and the German Schwade.

In Middle English, the term denoted a measure of the width of grassland, probably reckoned by a sweep of the mower’s scythe.

Late Old English:

  • 1 swath-
  • 2 swathian

C’mon, get it out of your system, bitch, whine, moan…which words are your pet peeves?

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