Word Confusion: Gleam and Glean

I was dashing off an e-mail just now, and I used the word gleam in the sense of examining some documents and deriving meaning.

Something struck me as odd about the word.  It turns out that I really meant glean. It’s a good thing I turned instantly to my cyber-buddy Dictionary.com to verify my spelling and usage, and sure enough: Gleam: a flash or beam of light. Glean: to gather slowly and laboriously, bit by bit. Of course, these are only the first definitions for each, but as you can see, I had chosen the wrong word entirely. 

Lesson here, even for an old writer hack like me: When in doubt, look it up.

7 thoughts on “Word Confusion: Gleam and Glean

  1. Jay says:

    Amazing, exactly same thing happened for me this week. I sent out an email with the starting sentence “Based on what I could gleam from the email thread below…”.
    Afterwards I kept thinking something was not right about my use of the word. And guess where I checked today? Yes, dictionary.com !

    That’s eerie, same thing happening for two people!
    Are you me?? 🙂

  2. Brian says:

    Totally happened to me today as well. Thanks for the clarification post.

  3. Samuli says:

    I was writing up a mission description for a game our company is developing and did the very same thing! Thankfully I happened to be unsure enough to look it up, which led me to this post. One more erroneous word eliminated from my vocabulary. Many thanks!

  4. Jeff says:

    I had the same experience. I was proof reading a paper for a colleague and she used the word gleaned (correctly). I flagged it as incorrect and suggested the word gleamed. This bugged me so I did some searching and then found this post. Turns out she was right!

  5. Pam says:

    I just used gleam instead of glean on an online application. I feel terrible and stupid. When I gleaned the word glean I should have know to double check when using it in print.=(

  6. Alan says:

    Actually both have been used in modern language for this. Gleam in its strict definition is too illuminate, shine, or reflect light. Glean is to gather bit by bit but was used in terms of agricultural harvest. Out of context usage of terms gleam can mean to illuminate information or reflect upon perspective. Glean to collect information or establish a perspective through information. Although newer dictionaries seem to prefer glean when pertaining to the information usage. My older dictionaries had the gleam/info references.

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