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Why the meddling middle letters in ‘ladder’ matter

By Curtis Honeycutt

I live in a house built around the year 1890. My neighborhood is called “Old Town,” for obvious reasons. The other day an area realtor posted a photo of a house from the early 1900s side-by-side with a photo of the same house in 2022. One of the big differences (other than the house isn’t in black and white anymore) was the presence of shutters in the earlier photo contrasted with the unadorned windows today. I involuntarily shuddered.

This got me thinking about words we utter vs. words we “udder.” You see, it’s easy to confuse – utter words with -udder words, as well as -atter and -adder words, but the difference between these words’ definitions is considerable.

Starting with my first example, a “shutter” is a movable cover for a window or camera. “Shudder,” on the other hand, is a tremble or convulsive movement caused by fear, horror, or cold.

When it comes to “matter” and “madder,” getting the right spelling really does matter. “Matter,” used as a verb, means to have significance. As a noun, “matter” is the physical stuff from which everything in the universe is made. “Madder” is a comparative form of the word “mad,” meaning “angry,” or in the slang sense, “mentally unstable.”

What about “latter” and “ladder”? Starting with the “latter” (in this case it’s also the former), this word refers to the second item mentioned in a list of two things. Latter can also refer to something later in time. A “ladder” is an object with evenly spaced rungs that you climb.

When I think of a “mudder,” I can’t help but recall Abbott and Costello’s comedy routine at the horse racetrack. A “mudder” is a horse that does well running in the mud. “Mutter,” on the other hand, is pretty similar to “utter,” although “mutter” is usually a quiet utter or grumble.

If I’ve learned one thing from watching the Food Network, it’s that better batter can be achieved with more butter. A “batter” is either a baseball player who is attempting to hit the ball with a bat, a mixture of flour and liquid ingredients that is used to make baked goods, or (as a verb) to hit something repeatedly. “Badder” is a comparative adjective meaning that something is “more bad” than the other thing.

Yes, spelling matters. When the cold air causes you to shudder, it’s time to close the shutters. Make sure to pay attention to -utter, -udder, -atter and -adder words so you don’t come across as utterly unintelligent.

—Curtis Honeycutt is an award-winning syndicated humor columnist. Connect with him on Twitter (@curtishoneycutt) or at curtishoneycutt.com.

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