Grammar 101 with Michael Kwan

There are many words that you may hear or that you may say, but you might rarely ever write. This can create all sorts of confusion about spelling, which is why many people may have a hard time deciding whether they should use queue or cue under what circumstances. This becomes even more troubling when you have three words that are pronounced exactly the same way.

Do you know the difference between palette, pallet and palate? It is possible that they were once derived from the same word, since they all can refer to some form of a flat object, but their exact definitions are quite different from one another.

A palette is the thin slab where an artist dabs and mixes his paint. Other artistic supplies may be used, to be sure, and you can also refer to the virtual palette that an artist may have in a graphic design program, for example. By extension, a palette can also refer to the range or selection of colors that an artist chooses to use, either in a specific work or in general.

John Henry used a mostly blue palette for his latest painting.

A palette knife is what you use to mix your colors.

A pallet, on the other hand, typically refers to the flat wooden platform where goods can be stacked and then moved around with a forklift. Other similar platforms utilized in a similar fashion can also be called pallets. A synonym in this context would be a skid. By extension, a pallet can also refer to a standard quantity of a specific product that is usually associated with one pallet’s worth of that good. While not as common today, a pallet can also refer to a straw mattress.

Can you move that pallet of boxes to the aisle 7B?

The order is for six pallets of hard drives.

And finally, a palate is the roof of the mouth. In the context of humans and other vertebrates, it is the tissue that separates the roof of the mouth from the nasal cavity. By extension, a palate also refers to a sense of taste (as in the flavor of food), as well as a more general sense of taste (as in fashion sense).

A fancy restaurant like West may sometimes offer you some sorbet to cleanse your palate between courses.

That food reviewer has a very sophisticated palate, especially when it comes to French cuisine.

To make sure that you are conveying the right meaning, you have to start with making sure that you are using the right words. Just as you shouldn’t mistake dual and duel, you should be mindful of when to use palette, pallet or palate.

Do you have a suggestion for a future Grammar 101 topic? Let me know by posting a comment below.