Tag Archives: spelling

Little Words and Zed

I’ve worked many years as a copy editor and have a fairly good memory for spelling. It’s amazing really that we ever standardized the English language, if you take into account that there’s British English (BE), American English (AE) and the bastard child of both, Canadian English (CE). AE and CE say “synchronize” instead of “synchronise”, but BE and CE say “neighbour” instead of “neighbor” and “travelled” instead of “traveled.” There are a few other odd words such as “jewellery” vs “jewelry.” But mostly we can understand each other even if Canadians say “zed” and Americans, “zee.” I’m an adamant proponent of continuing the “zed” pronunciation (being Canadian) and when some little tads corrected me with saying, “It’s zee.” I pretty much bit my lip and corrected them since they’re Canadian. Alas the invasion continues.

So, is it any wonder that there are so many misspelled words considering that Shakespear spelled his name so many different ways? Of course ,a lot of this had to to with relative illiteracy of the era. If you didn’t write regularly, even if you knew the rudiments, you weren’t very likely to spell words correctly.

As an editor, sometimes words are so often misspelled the same way that I start to doubt my own senses and then I have to look up words that I know are spelled incorrectly. Here are a few words of the modern age that are misspelled frequently:

  • burgundy (not burgandy for color or wine)
  • indefinitely (not indefinately, received three times last week) if it’s not finite then it’s indefinite like infinity .
  • no one (not no-one nor noone; this might be different in England)
  • its (the most misused word ever: if it is blue, then it’s blue. If the ball belongs to it (the dog), then it (the ball) is its (the dog). Its ball rolled into traffic.
  • twenty, thirty-something (twenty-two not twenty two)
  • would of, could of: People say this: I could’ve gone to the store. (which should really just be “could have”) But because of the way we hear it, I’ve seen it spelled could of. Wrong wrong wrong. Could have. I’ve seen this in books, which tells me either the copy editor was inexperienced or the publisher didn’t have a copy editor.
  • yeah is an informal form of agreement (yes) and yay, which is a cheer: Yay! We win.

And then there are the similarly pronounced words that have different spellings and meanings, called homonyms. Some commonly misused ones are:

  • consul (a consul general or Canadian consul) and console (to sympathize with someone, or a panel or case that holds an item like electronics)
  • aisle (what is between two rows of bookshelves) and isle (where we all want to go for a tropical vacation)
  • altar (where we put our objects to worship) and alter (how we change our appearance to escape the law)
  • brooch (what you wear as a decoration) and broach (what you do when you want  to raise a subject)
  • complement (how many you have–a complement of soldiers) and compliment (to praise–my you look great in your uniform)
  • council (a group of people) and counsel (the adviser/counsellor you get when your marriage is on the rocks)
  • gorilla (these guys use bananas) and guerrilla (these guys use guns)

There are many homonyms and a very extensive list can be found here, even ones that I’ve never considered or known. http://www.cooper.com/alan/homonym_list.html

I find it particularly bad when I read books that have many misspellings but it all depends on how good the publishers are at maintaining quality and if they care. Many small publishing houses do not even have copy editors and depend on (demand) the authors proofread their work. Of course everyone should always do that and hand in relatively clean copies. Still, when you’re looking at a story over and over again you are bound to miss some of your own typos. A second set of eyes is always best.

I sometimes think the internet will work at crumbling the English language (maybe others too) as people abbreviate words down to essential letters. We tend to get lazy at writing, leaving off capitalization and punctuation. Part of the advent of computers for everyone meant that many people have them but probably not everyone learned to type. And like our signatures that get messier the more we write them, our grammar goes to pot on the internet.
But English is a living and therefore evolving language so maybe the misspellings will take over the more people use them. In the meantime, misuses and typos will continue to drive the editors of the world crazy.

Leave a comment

Filed under Culture, internet, people, Publishing, Writing

Writing: Language and Typos

This is just a random sampling of words and styles I have found of late that seem to be commonly used incorrectly.

The post popular words for misspelling, even amongst people with university degrees or masters are:

  • burgundy–often spelled as burgandy…it’s organdy but burgundy
  • definitely–it’s definite that finite is included but it’s never definate
  • espresso–you may want your coffee quickly but the concentrated brew is always espresso, not expresso

I won’t even get into pronunciations. It’s new klee er, Mr. President, not new cue lar.

And I cannot forget that tiny little word that gives people so much consternation: It. That’s it, but what happens when you make it a possessive or a plural. It is a particular, idiosyncratic word that doesn’t follow the convention of most possessive.

When it owns something, it becomes its. When it is doing something, it becomes it’s. An easy way to remember the right form is this: if you have a sentence and you can turn it into “it is,” then you use it’s. Its dog bone fell in the hole. It’s a dog’s life. In the first sentence I can’t say, it is bone, but in the second I can say, It is a dog’s life. Oh, and there is no such thing as its’.

I saw this one so much recently I had to shake my brain. If you have a sentence of dialogue, it goes into double quotes (for Canada and the US). If you have a sentence with a quote in part of it, it still goes into double quotes, not single. For example; He was known for his “zoot suits,” white spats, and top hat.

And last, Canadians and Americans hyphenate numbers (really, it’s a en-dash, but let’s not confuse things). We don’t write twenty four but twenty-four, thirty-six, seventy-seven. Things get very confusing when we toss in Europe because there are different rules for different countries. Germans capitalize all nouns. North Americans want to capitalize more nouns than they need to. British put punctuation outside of quotations. French capitalize very little. Canadians do a bastardized form of American and British spelling. (Drives people batty, but we understand it.)

As a copy editor, even when I’m not editing I’m still editing. I can’t help it. It’s my anal gene. It especially gets me when I see advertising brochures that have huge typos. Uh, guys, if you’re spending that much on marketing, hire a proofreader too.

And last, dear reader, should you write something and want to exclaim about it, you’re only allowed one exclamation point! It doesn’t become louder because there are six exclamation points. Erotic writers tried to get carried away with this as if it was a prolonged orgrasm. Get it? And not more than one in a very large swath of writing. Okay!!!!!!

1 Comment

Filed under Culture, entertainment, humor, life, Publishing, Writing