The homophones pour and pore are sometimes confused: typically pour replaces pore in some form of the phrase pore over. For readers who notice the error – and many do – it can conjure up surreal images of liquid people flowing over the material at hand.
The mistake is usually limited to casual contexts, but it occasionally slips through into edited prose, such as this Irish Independent story from last week:
Merriam-Webster’s Concise Dictionary of English Usage says this mistaken use of pour “seems to be growing more common in less attentively edited publications”. Yet the words are not difficult to distinguish. Here are brief explanations, along with mnemonics – if you need them – to help remember the appropriate spellings.
Pore as a verb is usually followed by over, less often (but increasingly) by through, and sometimes – in the sense ‘to ponder’ – by on. Pore over means to read or study attentively; to scrutinise: you might pore over a text or a map. Think of the re common to pore and read.
Pour normally has to do with flowing or causing to flow: decanting a liquid or granular substance out of a container. You might pour tea from a pot, or sand from a bucket. Notice that the u in pour conveniently resembles a container.
Why people replace pore with pour is unclear to me; maybe the familiar spelling of pour comes more readily to mind, or perhaps pore is thought of only as a noun (referring to small holes in skin, rocks, or plants). But the words are easily kept distinct with the mnemonics I’ve set out above. If you have a different trick, do let me know.
The mistake appears in Steven Bach’s otherwise well-proofread Final Cut: Dreams and Disaster in the Making of Heaven’s Gate. From my Faber & Faber edition, 1986:
Jenny Diski’s Like Mother, Vintage edition, 1990:
Máirín O’Connor’s story ‘Troubled Water’, in the collection Writers’ Week Award-Winning Short Stories 1973–1994, edited by David Marcus and published by Marino Books in 1995:
Russell Miller’s Bare-Faced Messiah: