Word Confusion: Pearl vs Perle vs Purl

Posted May 14, 2015 by Kathy Davie in Author Resources, Self-Editing, Word Confusions, Writing

Revised as of 28 September 2017

I realize that you can wear pearls and purls. You can even wear pearls or purls — or both! — around your neck. But that sentence context is so important. One set of pearls around your neck is slim, a mere string of beads while a “strand” of purls could be mighty thick wrapped around one’s neck.

I know, I know, pearls may grow to be fairly large — the Pearl of Lao Tze is 9.45 inches in diameter! — but I don’t personally know anyone who could afford a string of pearls that size. And if I did, I’d hope they wouldn’t be silly enough to wear a necklace when each pearl weighed over 14 pounds!! I certainly can’t imagine any purled scarf weighing that much.

As for wearing perles. Well, yeah, there have been times when my pills have stuck to my hand when I tip them out of the bottle. I do, however, flick them off fairly quickly. I cannot imagine running errands while wearing one or more perles. For one thing, that gelatin containing the medication would dissolve and release all that powder. For another thing, they just don’t make colored capsules that coordinate with the colors in my wardrobe. Ewwyewww…

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. Consider sharing this Word Confusion with friends by tweeting it.

Pearl Perle Purl
Credit to: Apple Dictionary.com; Merriam-Webster: pearl

white pearl necklace

“White Pearl Necklace” by Flickr.com user “tanakawho” under the CC BY 2.0 license, via Wikimedia Commons

two gelatin capsules

“Kapsel Beredningsform” is Ola Rönnerup’s own work with copyrighted free use granted, via Wikimedia Commons

Thank god for perles, so we don’t have to taste the actual medicine!

red and yellow yarn laid out in huge loops to demonstrate a purl stitch

“Knitting Knit and Purl Stitches” is WillowW’s own work under the GFDL or CC BY 3.0 license, via Wikimedia Commons

Part of Grammar:
Adjective 1; Noun 2, 3;
Verb 4, intransitive & transitive

Past tense or past participle: pearled
Gerund or Present participle: pearling

Noun Adjective;
Noun 5, 6;
Verb, intransitive 6 & transitive

Past tense or past participle: purled
Gerund or present participle: purling

Of, relating to, or resembling pearl

  • Made of or adorned with pearls

Having medium-sized grains

A dense variously colored and usually lustrous concretion formed of concentric layers of nacre as an abnormal growth within the shell of some mollusks and used as a gem

  • Mother-of-pearl

One that is very choice or precious

Something resembling a pearl intrinsically or physically

A nearly neutral slightly bluish medium gray

[British] Picot 3

[Medical] One of the rounded concentric masses of squamous epithelial cells characteristic of certain tumors

[Medical] A miliary leproma of the iris

[Medical] A rounded abnormal mass of enamel on a tooth

Proper Noun:
A river about 410 miles south of the Mississippi River and flowing south into the Gulf of Mexico

A feminine first name

Verb, intransitive:
To form drops or beads like pearls

Verb, transitive:
To set or adorn with pearls

To sprinkle or bead with pearly drops

To form into small round grains

To give a pearly color or luster to

[British] Picot 3

[Medical] A soft gelatin capsule for enclosing volatile or unpleasant-tasting liquids intended to be swallowed

A fragile glass vial that contains a liquid (as amyl nitrite) and that is intended to be crushed and the vapor inhaled

Denoting or relating to a knitting stitch made by putting the needle through the front of the stitch from right to left

A purl stitch 5

[Singular] A purling motion or sound 6

A circle or curl made by the motion of water 6

  • Ripple
  • Eddy

One of a series of small loops along the edge of lace braid 7

Thread made of twisted gold or silver wire 7

To finish with loops or a looped edging 7

Verb, intransitive:
[Of a stream or river] Flow with a swirling motion and babbling sound 6

  • To flow with curling or rippling motion, as a shallow stream does over stones
  • To flow with a murmuring sound
  • To pass in a manner or with a sound likened to this

Verb, transitive:
Knit with a purl stitch

I like using pearl barley in my soups.

We saw her pearled like the queen.

I love the gleam of mother-of-pearl insets in mahogany boxes.

She wore a string of pearls.

Pearls of dew glistened on the roses.

She is a pearl beyond price.

“…pearling computes the position and radius of an adjacent pearl based on the image data…” (Wikipedia).

It’s like scattering pearls before swine!

Proper Noun:
The Pearl River is navigable to a certain extent.

Pearl and her sister are coming over for dinner.

Pearl S. Buck wrote a number of books about China.

Verb, intransitive:
“Pearling was popular in Qatar, Bahrain, and some areas in Persian Gulf countries” (Wikipedia).

Verb, transitive:
Pearling young and old males with pearls, beads, and bars has been practiced for years.

We pearled the barley.

Raindrops pearled like beads on the window.

The sky pearled a beautiful bluish gray.

Pearling allows the user to extract a higher level parametric representation of each tube or of a network of tubes (Rossignac et al).

I can’t imagine a practical usage for the fragile perles, but the idea of a gelatin capsule to contain the taste of bitter medications sounds like a great idea.

Fish oil comes in perles.

Vitamin E perles can be pierced by a pin to access the oil and then the pin can be used as a stopper for the hole.

The sweater has a nice contrast of knit and purl stitches.

Pearl has mastered the purl stitch.

Verb, intransitive:
The stream burbled and purled.

I learned to cast off and bind. Tomorrow I’ll learn how to purl.

Verb, transitive:
The pattern calls for knitting one, then purling one.

I purled three and knit one.

Cast 35 stitches upon each of three needles and knit around 30 times in single rib — that is, knit 1, purl 1, alternately.

Noun: pearler
Adjective: pearlish, pearllike
History of the Word:
1 First known use: 1610

2 First known use: 14th century

Middle English perle from the Anglo-French, probably from Vulgar Latin *pernula, which is a diminutive of Latin perna meaning upper leg or a kind of sea mussel. It’s also akin to the Old English fiersn meaning heel, the Greek pternē.

3 First known use: 1824. It’s also an alternate spelling for purl.

4 First known use: 14th century.

1885-90 from the French literally meaning pearl. 5 Mid-17th century and of uncertain origin.

6 Early 16th century denoting a small swirling stream). Compare with the Norwegian purla meaning bubble up or ripple.

7 1520-30 as a variant of the obsolete or dialectal pirl meaning to twist (threads, etc.) into a cord.

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

Pinterest Photo Credits

Kapsel Beredningsform is Ola Rönnerup’s own work with copyrighted free use granted, via Wikimedia Commons. Smocking Stitch pattern is courtesy of Knitting Unlimited.com.