The English language is filled with all sorts of words that sound the same but have entirely different meanings. And since you don’t get that squiggly red line underneath or the autocorrect on your phone doesn’t automatically change anything, you assume that nothing is wrong. This kind of error is especially common when one of the words isn’t exactly something you use every day.
A great example of this is when you might write “gate” when you really should be writing “gait” instead. Just like versus and verses or lightning and lightening, here are a couple of words that sound the same but are not at all related.
Gate is a word that is likely familiar to the majority of English speakers. The word has a few common definitions. You might use it to refer to the hinged barrier or door that is used to block (and open) the entrance to a pathway, as might be the case in your front yard. You’ve got a fence and then you’ve got the gate that you can open and close.
It can also refer to a similar kind of passageway on a much larger scale, as would be the case with a mountain pass or a natural opening like the Golden Gate in San Francisco. That’s the narrow passage of water over which spans the Golden Gate Bridge.
Colloquially, adding -gate as a suffix at the end of a word can be used to indicate some sort of potential scandal. This started with Richard Nixon and the Watergate Scandal in the 70s and has since been expanded to situations like Deflategate with Tom Brady following the 2015 AFC Championship game.
Gait, on the other hand, has absolutely nothing to do with doors, openings, passageways or political scandals. At least not directly. Instead, it’s a noun that is used to describe the way or manner in which a person walks. If you know someone who tends almost to stomp with very forceful and deliberate steps, you might say that he has a “heavy” gait.
It’s a bit of a scientific or psychological curiosity that people (and machines) can recognize other people based solely on their gait, given no other identifying information. We don’t really think about this consciously. I remember hearing footsteps in our house as a kid and I could tell if it was my mom, my dad or my brother based just on how the footsteps sounded. It’s remarkable.
The word “gait” isn’t restricted only to people, as it is commonly used to refer to animals too. If you’ve ever watched a dog show, then you might recall that the commentators sometimes discuss the gait of the contestants. Horses have a very distinct gait, as do coyotes with the distinctive “spring” or “prance” in their step.
A person’s gait can be confident, nervous, spirited or clumsy… but a gate (probably) can be none of those things. It’s an open and shut case, so to speak.