Sight, site, cite

oversiteYes, that’s a real headline. What’s wrong with it?

Sight, site, and cite—two nouns and a verb, all with identical pronunciations but different meanings. They’re called homophones [].

A quirk of English that people who write newspaper headlines are supposed to know about. [].

To set the record straight, here are some definitions:

  • Sight – the ability to see or something that is seen
  • Site – a physical or Internet location
  • Cite – to quote a source as proof or confirmation (notice anything about this post?)

A person with the power of sight can see a sight, perhaps a building site or a website, then cite a published picture to verify its existence.

Some of these variations have nothing to do with the root words:

  • Insight – an intuitive understanding of a person or thing [].
  • In-site (note hyphen) – within a particular Internet location
  • Incite – to encourage violent or unlawful behavior

If a programmer does not have insight into the peculiarities of in-site software navigation, the resulting frustration could incite users to write nasty reviews.

Other variations have distant ties to the original root meanings:

  • Oversight – watchful or responsible care. Also a failure to notice something [].
  • Oversite – (construction) a layer of concrete on the ground, below a slab of flooring [].
  • Overcite – to excessively quote footnotes, sources, or links to outside articles (what kind of moron would do that?)

Despite careful oversight of the construction process, an oversight can occur, allowing a flaw in the oversite and leading to a lawsuit in which the attorney will inevitably overcite the case.

If you’re not talking about a layer of concrete on the ground under the subflooring, oversite is the wrong word. (See newspaper headline illustration. It should have said oversight.)

If you’re still reading, congratulations!

By now you’re also painfully aware of the single correct usage of the word overcite. The user-hostile1 practice of overciting infuriates and annoys the reader2. It reduces readability to almost zero3.

1 User-hostile is the opposite of user-friendly.
2 That would be you.
3 Well, not absolutely zero because you are still reading

But unless you react to them by repeatedly pounding your head on a slab of concrete under the floor, neither oversite nor overcite has anything to do with concussions.

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