Archive: January 16th, 2008

Typo? Or Not a Typo? That is the Question

j0399580.jpgWe’re all human. We all make mistakes from time to time, typing “tot he” instead of “to the,” missing the Shift key when typing “I,” stuff like that. It happens. And those kind of errors are what make things like automatic spell-checks useful, instead of detrimental. These kinds of errors, though, are not the same thing as ones caused by carelessness, or a sloppy disregard of spelling conventions, which is a whole ‘nother post.

But what about those troublesome words? Even the most careful people have “catch” words . . . the ones their brain regularly catches on, uncertain of the spelling. Is it seperate or separate? Committment or commitment? How embarras(s)ing!

Because, this is one of the most dangerous things about sloppy spelling–after a while, when you’ve seen “loose” written countless times when it should have been “lose,” the incorrect spelling starts looking like it might be . . . correct. And after a while, the correct spelling might start putting up red flags in your brain. I worked in the greeting card department of a local department store when I was in high school, and around Mother’s Day, suddenly, the word M-O-T-H-E-R just simply did not look correct to me any more. Moth-er? Could that possibly be right? What’s a word about fluttering, wool-eating insects have to do with my Mom? Just looking at that word for hours on end started to throw me off, even though I knew perfectly well (usually) how to spell Mom’s formal title.

You know the old expression about familiarity breeding contempt? Well, where spelling is concerned, it breeds a casual disregard.

So, in the face of rampant misspellings through the blogosphere, e-mail-land, and everywhere else, what can an advertent speller do to keep sharp and accurate?

  1. Use memory tricks. “Separate” has always been a trick word for me, until I finally pointed out to myself that it was like paring something into separate pieces . . . and pare has an A, not an E as its active verb. Or, for discrete/discreet–the modest one has both “e”s tucked safely inside the word, whereas the one describing sepArate things has them divided by the T. Or, the “too” that means “also,” has an extra O. You get the idea.
  2. Check the dictionary or, yes, use the spell-check. Dictionaries are more reliable, and the spell-check might not be able to tell you whether you should use “would” or “wood,” but if you spell something like “explanatory” incorrectly, the chances are pretty good that it’s going to catch it.
  3. Know who you’re reading. Again, everyone makes occasional mistakes, but when you’re out in the world reading the latest recipe or rant by your favorite blogger, you’ll usually know whether that person tends to be accurate or not . . . and you’ll know when to ignore a red-flag word. (“This person is great with the marketing scenarios, but clearly doesn’t know the inside of a dictionary.”) It’s no reflection on them–a person can be brilliant but a chronically bad speller. Just . . . try to know whose spelling is apt to be wrong so you can keep your mental guard up.
  4. And, of course, simply don’t make mistakes…. (ba dum bum).

What tricks to you use to catch your (entirely accidental, of course) spelling mistakes?

What words do you get stuck on?