Friday Fluff

Friday Fluff: Are You Smarter than a Spell Checker?

It is a truth universally acknowledged by pedants that spell checkers are pretty much the worst thing ever to happen to civilization. Back in the day, at least people tried to proofread, but now, everyone assumes their built-in spell checkers and grammar checkers will take care of that for them. (At least, everyone who came into the writing center where I used to tutor. Oof.) And boy, is that ever not the case.

All right, I’ll admit that “worst thing ever” might be stretching it. (A little.) I suppose spell checkers have brought us fewer transposed letters and common misspellings, so I’ll begrudgingly give them some credit. But they have also unleashed upon the world a hell of a lot more homophone abuse–not to mention misspellings that create entirely different words which, because they are still words, don’t get caught.

My sister Julie is just as annoyed by this as I am (and employed by a resume-writing firm), so she’s written up a quiz for job seekers to test their ability to catch common errors. I got them all correct (of course, ahem), but she says everybody misses number 8. Go take the quiz, then come back here and tell us how you did and what your other spell-checker-related pet peeves are–or tell us why you love spell checkers, if you do. I do try to remember that spelling is something that came so naturally to me I can’t really take any credit for my abilities, and other people are undoubtedly as grateful for spell checkers as I am for calculators. But that doesn’t mean they haven’t ruined civilization. Harrumph!

220 thoughts on “Friday Fluff: Are You Smarter than a Spell Checker?”

  1. I don’t think we can blame number 8 on spellcheckers, fwiw. I think a lot of people just don’t know where their idioms come from. I get really irritated when people “take a different tact,” for instance.

    I had a student turn in a paper with nearly every word misspelled, and his excuse was that his spellchecker was broken. I don’t mind a misused homophone here and there — well, I mind it, but I can tolerate it. But when the absence of a spellchecker completely undermines your ability to write intelligibly, then you’re leaning on it way too hard. FFS, they wouldn’t let kids graduate high school if they couldn’t add without a calculator.

  2. I think number 8 is a perfect example of an Eggcorn. And I’m usually pretty good at those, but not one I ever knew! (My personal pet peeve is the phrase “just deserts” which has completely outlived its usefulness because there’s no way you can use it without half the readers being irate that you got it wrong.)

  3. I’m a book editor by profession, and what’s worse than people using spell checkers as an excuse to be careless is the fact that more and more authors, even in academic publishing, don’t seem to bother to spell check at all! (And don’t get me started on the sloppy citation style, lack of citations for quotations and paraphrases, and just plain plagiarism I see more and more frequently…)

    My personal pet peeve these days is “it’s” versus “its.” Even otherwise good, careful writers mix those up all the time.

  4. Please ignore the winking face above. I forgot about WordPress’s odd quirk with periods and end parentheses.

  5. Yikes. I thought I would catch everything. I missed #10. I kept re-reading it, knowing that something was wrong, but I just couldn’t find it! I guess I don’t use “stationery” very often…

  6. I missed the most obvious one. Pubic Defender. *headdesk* Which is why I always like to have at least one other person read my resume/important stuff. Some of us just aren’t detail oriented.

    I do actually find that the best way to really proofread something is to read it backwards. Otherwise I just assume that it says what I wrote.

  7. I got them all, though somehow I’m not nearly as good at typo-spotting in my day job as I should be. What scares me is that some homophone switches are so common anymore that I have to think about which version of a word is correct.

    To add to the idiom discussion, I can’t stand:
    “poured over”
    “baited breath”

  8. I got them all, but 1) I used to teach business writing, and took a sadistic delight in creating spellcheck- and grammarcheck-proof copyediting tests (it’s tricky but possible to fool grammarcheck), and 2) used to be a theater person, so I know from being a trouper.

    On my blog and in my column, I’ve discovered that absolutely NOTHING brings in the letters and comments like language issues: pet peeves, the etiquette of correcting others’ grammar/pronunciation, what to call women (e.g. the acceptability of women/girls/guys/dudes; “ma’am,” etc.).

  9. Oh, and re: plagiarism. One of my students totally lifted several sections of a paper she wrote from different internet sources. When I talked to her about it (and gave her a zero on the assignment) she said she had wondered whether or not she she put citations in the paper. She also said that she mixed up the original author’s words a bit so that it WOULDN”T be plagiarism. Um. Yeah. I am in the sciences, but have English and Philosophy degrees from undergrad. Do students in the sciences not receive any training on correctly citing?

    Oh, and there were so many “there”, “their”, and yes, even “they’re” mixups that I practically lost my mind.

  10. Well I didn’t get them all. Missing 4, 8 and 10. But that’s ok, hopefully I don’t have to write a resume here in the near near future.

  11. Actually, the one that threw me was number 4. I stared at it and stared at it and my brain just couldn’t wrap itself around it. All the others, however, I got without a problem.

    I’m a weirdly good speller, always have been. One of the worst moments in my young life was in third grade: we did a weekly spelling test and I had been running a long streak of scoring 100 percent. One day, I got one wrong, and I burst into tears at my desk. Three years later, I made up for it by winning the class spelling bee on “geranium”.

    Spell check doesn’t bother me that much, but I don’t have much use for it. What drives me up a wall is when people posting on message boards or blogs can’t be arsed to use it and instead think it’s perfectly acceptable to spew out long strings of misspelled, poorly constructed blather…then declare they want to be writers one day. It makes that one vein in my forehead throb so, so hard.

  12. Don’t know about #4. Diffusion to technical types means movement of molecules based on concentration of the medium they’re in. When I hear that someone “diffused a situation”, I would assume that they broke it up into smaller components and then moved individual components further away from the crisis into areas of relative calm. Or if you will they reduced the concentration of crisis in a specific region.

    I’m not literary, you guys are the experts. I just know enough English to make the TPS reports happen.

  13. I got them all right! I’ll have to tell my parents– since I used to fail spelling tests because I copied the words down wrong and proceeded to learn my wrong list. Grrr…

  14. Well, thanks for linking to that, it was fun! (I’m such a nerd.) I went ten for ten, and since it’s not a great day at work, that helps me feel better about my skills.

  15. I got ’em all right, but I’m crazy and about 30% of my job is proofreading.

    My pet peeves are: less vs. fewer (there was a Lexus commercial that talked about “60 less seconds” and I just about exploded) and “that” vs. “who”.

    Now, I may not be perfect 100% of the time while commenting or blogging or whatnot, but when turning in a piece of professional writing (such as the proofreading for my day job), oh, heck.

    Also, UGH, the article that your sister linked to. I am so SICK of being told that all the traditional signs of being smart, such as good grades, being able to spell, and high test scores, DON’T MEAN YOU’RE SMART ANYMORE. IMHO, they still mean you’re smart. It’s just that the opposite is not true: someone who presents none of those signs may still be smart. (One might easily guess by these that I present all those signs and, not surprisingly, that I consider myself smart. But, hey.)

  16. I got ’em all!

    I wish people wouldn’t rely so hard on spell checkers, but on the other hand, it makes me furious when people clearly *didn’t even bother* running spell checkers.

  17. I had a student do the pubic/public one rather delightfully (“marriage is a pubic way to show your love for your wife”). Not quite as good as the glorious typo from one of my friend Ed’s students: “Nuclear waste is piling up like dirty cocks in a bachelor’s apartment.”

    I respectfully submit, though, that the thesaurus has done more to ruin comprehensible writing than spellchecker ever did. My favorite sentence ever written by a student actually includes a homophone error, but was mainly wrought by thesaurus misuse: “His list of accomplishments that would generate the reader to awe in surprise seizes to exist.”

    Yeah, mostly I’m glad to be done with grad school, but teaching had its perks.

  18. I had a boss who forgot the L in public so often that we removed the resultant word from his spell-checker’s dictionary.

    My personal pet peeve is when people use “then” instead of “than” when making a comparison.

  19. Whee! I got them all right…though I must admit it took an embarrassing number of readings to catch the Pubic Defender thing.

    I met one of my dearest friends online because we both were writing fanfic. She has often said one of the first things that drew her to me was the fact that I never seemed to mix up ‘then’ and ‘than’.

    My mother was fond of saying that people who spelled really well did so because they had nothing more important to think about…and then using me as her spellcheck. Humph. She did, however, express great support for me in other ways, so I’ve decided it was just a quirk to be ignored.

  20. I got them all, except for #9. I stared and stared and just could not see the missing “l”.
    I am a terrible natural speller, so I try to be very careful, and aware of my common mistakes. Especially than and then, and its and it’s.

  21. 10 out of 10, which I’m counting as my biggest accomplishment of the week.

    The pubic/public one reminded me of when I worked for the city. We purposely set our spellchecker to consider ‘pubic’ as a misspelled word, just to avoid sending out thousands of letters from the Department of Pubic Works (which would be a place for bikini waxes, in my opinion).

  22. I got number 8! But only because my copy editor boyfriend quizzed me on that the other day (he is the grand high king of pedants).

    I missed number 4 and I am embarassed to say that i did not even know it was a different word :( I got all the other ones though.

    On number 10 I can never *remember* which is stationary and which is stationery but when I saw the first one I assumed it must have been the second.

    There are resume writing firms? The boy would be perfect for that! (he just got laid off from the paper he’s worked for for 5 years yesterday, sad)

  23. That was a great quiz. Julie is awesome.

    Because I see them misused on a regular basis, my top two would be setup vs. set up and backup vs. back up.

    If we’re talking pronunciation instead of written errors, expresso for espresso definitely leads the pack.

  24. Got ’em all! Actually found #8 one of the easier ones. Proof-reading is my life. (sad but true)

  25. Mikey, that is what it would mean, but that’s not actually what people are trying to say when they say they “diffused the situation.” They’re just misspelling “defused.”

    Has anyone mentioned affect and effect? A lot of my pet peeves are terribly archaic, since they were passed down from my grandmother via my mother, but that one’s fresh as a daisy.

    Oooh, and everyday vs. every day.

  26. Up with pedantry, especially spelling pedantry! (I got them all, btw).

    A few years back I applied for and was offered a job with a local research database company. I was going to be reviewing science and engineering theses (I really hope that’s the right plural, seeing as this entry is about pedantry and all–Google seems to say so, but you never know), editing the abstracts, and developing keywords. In many ways this would have been the perfect job for me–I’m an engineer, I had been in a Ph.D. program so I had a fair amount of general exposure to scholarly papers, theses, online databases, etc., and perhaps most importantly, I am not actually good at engineering, though I do love the calculations and computer work and those parts of the job. The things I am good at are spelling, editing, languages, and other detail-oriented, logical work like computer programming or data management. You know, basically the skills I would have needed for this job. (I’m really not trying to toot my own horn here, but I so often feel like I’m not good at anything that it helps me to remind myself that I am good at many things, just not the stupid thing that I decided for some reason that I just had to be when I grew up.)

    So anyway, when I interviewed for this position, they gave me a test with some sentences in other languages to see if I could catch the gist, since many of the theses that were going to come in would be in other languages. They called me the next day exclaiming about how well I had done on the test and how close I had gotten even on the sentences that were in languages I wasn’t supposed to know anything about. (I should say that these were European languages only–it’s not like I have a magical ability to read other character sets or anything. :) ) On top of that, it was a laid-back, friendly, creative environment (consulting is usually much more “corporate” and hard-charging, and I have always been a little uncomfortable in that environment, not that there’s anything objectively wrong with it), and the people seemed much more “like me” than other engineers typically do. I think I would have liked it there, though of course the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.

    But did I take the job? No. I decided I just couldn’t not be an engineer and “use my degrees.” So instead I took a job (which, don’t get me wrong, was a good job with a good company, just not for me) that made me absolutely miserable, required me to be on call to sample sewage an hour’s drive away from my house at all hours of the day and night and to interact heavily with tough clients–and being asked to answer questions on the spot like that in a fairly high-pressure situation is probably the thing I am absolutely worst at in the world. Mildly germphobic though I am, I would have messed around with the sewage 12 hours a day to avoid that part of it. I gained 80 pounds during the 3 years I worked there.

    I am such a dumbass. The thing is, though, although I would definitely take that job if it were offered to me now (unfortunately I totally burned my bridges with that company by tentatively accepting the job, then turning it down the next day in a panic, so that’s impossible :( ), I’m not sure how well it would have worked out at the time–I think I wouldn’t have been convinced that I had made the right decision. I think I had to continue “in my field” for a while and really know that I was in the wrong profession before I could move on without regrets.

    Anyway, sorry for the whine (I think we can all agree that it was long, but at least it was boring :) ), but apparently I am not that sorry since I’m still going to post it. Anyway, Happy Friday, everyone!

  27. I had to re-read the Pubic Defender multiple times to catch it despite it being such a classic in the world of typos. My mind kept supplying that missing L.

    Re: plagiarism. Back when I was teaching college level social science courses, I had a student turn in a paper that included huge chunks of material cut and pasted from the internet. It took me less than a minute to track down the web pages he’d lifted it all from. I gave him a failing grade, of course, but then his mother had the bizarre nerve to protest to my department head. It came out in conversation that one reason she was so pissed off about the F was she was the one who had actually written the paper! In a weird way she saved his sorry ass, because my boss and I then felt so sorry for the kid that he just got an F on the one paper and not the entire course. I occasionally have days when I miss teaching, but then I think about stuff like that. . . and suddenly the windowless cubicle buried in the bowels of a huge government agency is looking good. :)

  28. affect and effect drive me up a wall! AND my boss did that one the other day on something she was having me send out and I pointed it out to her and she just shrugged and said “Send it out anyway they won’t notice”

    I wanted to cry. I mean its true but still, whatever happened to being correct because its correct? Fo’ Realz Yo

  29. I got them all, because I am a language nerd.

    Misuse of apostrophes is what drives me up the wall. I’m tempted to become one of those mentals who walks around with a marker correcting things. I already did once — there was a poster on the underground advertising the importance of a good education in the sciences, and one of the sentences said: “Maybe it’s light comes from the sun”. ON A POSTER. ABOUT THE IMPORTANCE OF EDUCATION. *twitch* I had a minor mental breakdown, then corrected the shit out of it.

    Also, Um. Yeah. I am in the sciences, but have English and Philosophy degrees from undergrad. Do students in the sciences not receive any training on correctly citing?

    In my experience, we actually receive more plagarism training than arts undergrads. I’ve been in arts faculties in my current uni and another one (both among the best in the UK) and am now in the science faculty here. And sure, the arts faculties made sure we knew not to plagarise etc., but the science faculty made us take workshops and do roleplays and mark pretend essays and god knows what else so we KNEW how to cite and not plagarise, and had absolutely ZERO tolerance for anything like that. They walked the walk of being strict on plagarism rather than just telling us not to do it. (The rule of thumb we were given was that if you didn’t know this before you read the source, cite the source.) So yeah, science students should not be offering ignorance as an excuse not to cite correctly. (Nor should any students in this day and age, really.)

  30. Is there a term for when folks use the wrong ‘big words’ because they think it makes them seem smarter, rather than the correct plain words? Because that’s my pet peeve. I think if I hear someone use enormity to indicate enormous size one more time, I’m gonna plotz.

  31. I didn’t get #10. And #8 I only got because I figured: “If ‘oo’ is the wrong spelling, I guess the right one must be ‘ou’. Huh. I guess that makes sense”. Of course, if it hadn’t been in the context of checking for wrong spellings, I doubt I would have caught more than half. I’m not a very attentive reader.

  32. I didn’t know exactly what was wrong with #4 and #8, but I did pick the words that were most likely incorrect.

    I notice these things all the time. At my gym, someone wrote something on a white board, and it said “What is the differents between ….. and …..?” and while I might confuse diffuse and defuse, I don’t understand differents and difference.

    As far as actual spelling mistakes go, my pet peeves are seperate and desparate.

  33. Is there a term for when folks use the wrong ‘big words’ because they think it makes them seem smarter, rather than the correct plain words?

    Heh, my sister’s ex boyfriend used to do that all the time. And when my sister called him out on it, he’d get all whiny and complain that nobody else noticed when he used the words wrong. He wasn’t used to dating/hanging out with somebody smarter than him :P

  34. Got every one of ’em, but then I’m absolutely anal about spelling. (Eighth grade spelling bee champion, here.)

    My pet peeves about spelling include: discrete/discreet, then/than, affect/effect, and any mistake that involves the use of an apostrophe to pluralize. I’m not a composition teacher, but I’m often tempted to mark students down for misspellings and grammar errors in their papers.

  35. Is there a term for when folks use the wrong ‘big words’ because they think it makes them seem smarter, rather than the correct plain words?

    William F. Buckley, Jr.?

    (Noam Chomsky FTW!)

  36. @Becky: I had a boss who was addicted to the word “irregardless.” He used it indiscriminately. It drove me up the wall because he didn’t even know what it meant – it was more like a “filler word” for him. I feel your pain.

  37. That’s a great little test. The stationary/stationery one caught me up because I always get them mixed up.

    We’re doing some hiring at work right now, primarily from university work experience programs. One applicant spelled his university’s name wrong. Twice.

  38. Yay! I got them all right! I’m pretty good with spelling, but unfortunately grammar is another story.

  39. I got them all, but I didn’t know the reason why #8 was wrong– I just suspected that I had found the word with the mistake.

    I am grateful for spellcheck, especially in e-mails and blog comments. I transpose letters when typing all the time.

  40. Certain little language blips annoy me, but not to the point of madness. I myself am I not the greatest of spellers, which is strange for a person who writes as much as I do, but I figured out in college that I likely have dyscalculia, which is a learning disability involving math. One of the things people who have dyscalculia deal with is not being able to place objects in space/remember the order of things, and since my biggest spelling blunders come from knowing what letters are in a word, but often not knowing exactly what order they appear in…so yeah *lol*

    But I do twitch when I hear people say, “an historic occasion” which is only gramatically correct if you’re Dick Van Dyke and you’re starring in “Mary Poppins.” There is an H there and we pronounce it, so no “an” please, for the love of God *lol*. Though it is probably an accepted use now, it really shouldn’t be.

    Also the word, guesstimate. Redundant much?

  41. guesstimate. Redundant much?

    Ha! I hadn’t thought of redundancy being the problem with this one (I just thought it was cutesy), but you’re absolutely right.

  42. Got ’em all, but I used to proofread articles for publication for no fewer than six computer science professors at Harvard, so I had a leg up to start with. Also, full disclosure, I knew “preceded” was right out but blanked on whether the correct answer had two e’s or three. In cases like that, I turn to which only informs but never dictates, unlike vicious spell- and grammar-check programs with their nasty underlinings.

  43. My first resume out of high school I stated that I was a “quick leaner.” Which, oddly enough, is kind of true, since I’m very lazy.

  44. Speaking of spellchecking, I don’t usually use it as I am a fairly decent speller….but I was sending a message to the office about them needing to “count” something……..well, thank goodness, I reread before sending because I had forgotten the “o” in count………

  45. Harriet, I know what you actually mean about 2 or 3 e’s, but it makes me happy to instead envision the word “proceeeded” as I read your comment. :)

  46. Quick leaner – that’s funny!

    I got them all, but I wouldn’t have if I didn’t already know there was a mistake in each sentence. Shamefully, I wasn’t even aware that stationary is not stationery. And I had always associated being a “trooper” with the military, so I didn’t know that trouper was correct there. So I learned a lot today!

  47. I got them all. I’ve always been a good speller, so usually the only thing I need my spell-checker for is to catch transposed letters. What really drives me up a wall is Microsoft Word’s grammar checker, which is wrong a good 50% of the time. (It once wanted to replace “dirty socks” with “dirties socks”… and “So do I” with “So do me.”) But if you turn off the grammar checker, you don’t get the fun readability statistics. Blah.

  48. My pet peeve is when people mix up lose/loose, e.g. “He is a looser”. *shudder*

  49. @Adam G.: I’m at the point where I cringe a little every time I see discreet/discrete because it’s used incorrectly so often.

    I got 10 for 10 on the quiz, including #8 because I’m fascinated by word origins and looked it up once.

    Our student newspaper (I work in higher ed but not teaching) had so many spelling and grammatical errors that I gave up reading it last year. I blame my obsession with spelling and grammar on growing up in a bilingual home and having to translate for my mom a lot. No idea how common this is.

  50. As to the use of the deadly apostrophe, my particular peeve is when people label their houses incorrecty. One neighbor’s house is labelled “The Duane’s” and every time I walk by I sketch a little salute because I am passing the house of The One and Only Duane. All Hail the Duane of Maynard!

    Elizabeth, I am a quick leaner too. Even quicker to sit in a comfy chair or lie down on the couch with a good novel in hand.

  51. My mother, who is a social worker, once showed me her resume and where she wanted to say she “Maintained” a mentally ill population, she instead wrote that she “Maimed” them!

    I told her this probably wouldn’t help her get a job except at the most sadistic of group homes!

  52. I’ve worked as a proofreader and editor, so I usually do pretty well on tests like this. I got them all right except for technically #4, which I knew was the wrong word but couldn’t think of the correct one, so half-point credit, please?

    When I was at the employment agency who was screening applicants for my second job out of college (a proofreading position), the first thing they did was give me the test the company had provided and left me alone for the time they thought I’d need. I went out and got the agency rep in about half that time since I had already finished the test and triple-checked it for accuracy. She was floored I had finished it, and then after grading it, was even more floored that I had the best score by far. It was amusing, watching her run around to her fellow agency employees (who had all taken the test for fun when it arrived) and point out my time and score.

    My personal pet peeve these days is “it’s” versus “its.” Even otherwise good, careful writers mix those up all the time.

    This is my biggest peeve. Drives my crazy!! I just saw “it’s” instead of the proper “its” on a banner in front of a Thai restaurant in Florida while on vacation last month, and was really tempted to go in and tell them to correct it ASAP!

    I could tell when Harlequin Publishing got rid of their proofreading department almost to the month because their books started having problems with apostrophes.

    I do actually find that the best way to really proofread something is to read it backwards.

    An excellent method, as is (if retyping something from a print source) having someone else read the original source material out loud while you read your printout word-for-word.

  53. As a dyslexic student I was unable to catch many of those mistakes. I love the spell checker because otherwise almost every word would be misspelt for me. I have special programmes which give dictionary definitions for all the checks so I know which one to pick. i reckon they should expand them to the general population if wrong-word-picking is so rife. Spell checks are a god-send though for those of us who have difficulty which spelling and schish.

  54. I respectfully submit, though, that the thesaurus has done more to ruin comprehensible writing than spellchecker ever did.

    I agree. I remember one of my high school teachers talking about obvious “thesaurus words,” and man, did I see what he meant when I was tutoring. Two words having similar meanings does not mean they can be used exactly the same way!

    One neighbor’s house is labelled “The Duane’s”

    My own brother’s family e-mail comes from “The Harding’s,” which I’m quite sure is keeping my mother from resting in peace. I’ve registered complaints, but to no avail.

  55. I didn’t get the last two – I blame it on being such a voracious reader that my mind automatically supplies the correct version of the word that makes sense in the sentence. ;)

    I have a lot of pet peeves that revolve around others’ spelling and grammar. However, the biggest one at the moment is the misuse of the apostrophe. If it’s plural, there’s no apostrophe! It makes me go *headdesk*

  56. I think this has a lot more to do with people not reading much anymore than with the rise of spell checkers. I see (and HEAR! GOD! SO ANNOYING! OPEN YOUR FREAKIN’ MOUTH WHEN YOU TALK!) “take a different tact” and “waiting with baited breath” all the time, but between Americans’ lazy pronunciation and the extremely low odds that people have ever seen it written out, it’s not really that surprising they get it wrong.

    (I did hear kind of a funny one, though; one of my co-workers was getting all tough and serious on the phone and said that he needed to let people know “the levity of the situation”. Pretty sure he meant “gravity”, ’cause he wasn’t amused when I giggled.)

    I am patently not a natural speller, but I am and was a voracious reader. After seeing words used correctly hundreds of thousands of times, I made one hell of a copy editor in my teens simply because my eyes told me something was wrong–even if my brain had to go use a dictionary to fix it.

    Also, a pet peeve: Dictionaries are NOT that hard to use! I used to work as a copy editor in high school and people would constantly ask me how to spell words–but I’m a terrible speller and would tell them to use a dictionary. There would follow much wailing and gnashing of teeth as they told me that it was impossible to use a dictionary if you didn’t know how to spell the word. That may be technically true, but if you’re so incredibly lost that you can’t narrow the first few letters down to a couple of possibilities, you have bigger problems than spelling. Also, now places like even have search engines that allow phonetic spelling, so there is NO reason not to look stuff up. Gah!

  57. Argh! My brain inserted an additional “a” in the manger/manager item!

    I’m an editor and persistent typo generator. What drives me nuts is when people write “everyone and their dog.” Everyone is singular. It should be “everyone and his or her dog.”

    Then there’s over/more than. If it’s something you can count, it’s “more than.” Well, that’s the style at the newspaper where I work.

  58. What drives me nuts is when people write “everyone and their dog.” Everyone is singular. It should be “everyone and his or her dog.”

    I used to be a stickler about that, but I do it now to acknowledge that not everyone identifies as one of two genders. I’m not a fan of “zie” and “zir,” which have been offered as substitutes, because so few people have ever heard them. But using “their” as singular is so common, there’s never any confusion about what you’re trying to say, even if it makes pedants squirm.

  59. Sadly, I missed #9, skimming over the offending word entirely. Got the others, though.

    Did anyone else start to channel Gareth from The Office on this one? “As the Assistant to the Regional Manger, I filled several high-level administrative roles.” …..”I’m the Assistant Regional Manager.” “No, you’re the assistant to the Regional Manager.”

    The most convoluted eggcorn I’ve ever seen was “lack toast and tolerant” on a student paper. Then I googled it and found out it was a fairly common mistake, and then got very sad for humanity.

  60. I got them all! :D

    But then, I’ve been seriously considering trying to become a professional proofreader.

    And I grew up just before spellcheckers, and in the last year of students to actually be taught grammar in my elementary school.

  61. Irregardless! I fucking HATE it when people say that… I invited a friend to give a research seminar to my department, and she said it. She holds that it absolutely is an acceptable alternative to regardless.

    Also, while at Super Target: “Apples, $1.99/pd”. PD? WTF?

  62. I got 100%, but I’ve been a voracious reader all my life and worked as a technical writer/editor for years.

    Many of my pet peeves have already been mentioned (apostrophes being high on the list), but two that haven’t are “that” versus “which” and “cut and dry” instead of “cut and dried.”

    And, I’m sorry, Jae, but I use “an historic” and sort of elide the h since the accent is on the second syllable. I do, however say “a history.”

    I used to be a bigger stickler for spelling (I had a friend who couldn’t spell even really common words) until I read this interesting article in the Washington Post. There are apparently about 20% of people who have a physiological reason for not being able to spell well.

  63. I got them all right. But then, I’m a picky 40 year old attorney and I hate those youngsters and their misuse of English.

    – to, too, two
    – your, you’re
    – there, they’re, their
    – rampant apostrophe abuse
    – incorrect plurals (“millenniums” makes my eyes bleed)

    Most of these problems seem to stem from the sheer lack of reading by Americans. Even the Internet, last bastion of the written word, is being subsumed by YouTube… turning it into just another place to mindlessly watch television.

  64. I was going to try and link to a fun blog I found awhile back that collects pictures of signs with misplaced apostrophes, but then I tried to look it up and found that there are several! Pedants of the world unite.
    (And if you all don’t already have both Eats, Shoots, and Leaves and Woe is I, go out and buy them posthaste. Eats is something to empathize with, Woe gives awesomely funny examples for all the grammar rules.)

  65. I second “Woe is I” (although there are two rules in it with which I heartily disagree).

  66. Oh! How about misuse of the reflexive pronoun, which the misuers seem to think makes them sound intelligent…? (And yes, I realize that I just made up a word there.)

    – John and myself were vacationing in Alaska…

    The other one that just came to mind is the misuse of between and among, no one seeming to know anymore that “between” means there’s two of something, but “among” means that there’s more than two.

    – It was a race between Jack, Steve, and myself.
    – I can’t decide among this one or that one.

    I’ll stop now.

  67. I’m amazed nobody has mentioned this one yet, but the typo/misspelling that absolutely makes me twitch is when someone who doesn’t quite get it tries to type “definitely.”

    I saw it spelled “definately” often for several years, and I guess now that browsers and such have built in spell checkers, they try to arrange those letters into a word that’s not underlined, and get “defiantly.” Which is so a different word that it’s not even funny. Just let go of the “A,” people. It’s not in there.

    But my favorite typos come from my college’s student paper. One is about plans to “resurrect” (I assume they meant “erect.”) a parking garage, the other discusses the idea of removing any “symbolance” of something or other that was offensive to some group. I forget what it was about, but the mental image of a little ambulance coming to rescue sick and injured symbols stuck with me.

  68. Emmy- have you ever seen “Boondock Saints”? There is a part where Willem Dafoe’s character is making fun of another character for saying “symbology”. I found it really amusing, until I found out that “symbology” is actually a field of study.

  69. Argh. The winking smileys. That’s supposed to be the end of the parenthetical. Here I am being all pedantic, and I get a darned emoticon in there. Bleh.

  70. Kristin- Is it, really? I kind of thought “symbology” was made up for the sake of the Da Vinci Code. Huh.

  71. I got them all. But then, I spell better than I do just about anything. It’s kinda required for my job, although I’m shocked at the number of medical transcriptionists who don’t know “loose” from “lose,” and traffic in serious apostrophe abuse.

  72. And, I’m sorry, Jae, but I use “an historic” and sort of elide the h since the accent is on the second syllable. I do, however say “a history.”

    Eh on my list of life’s annoyances (not that I actually have such a list…yet) it’s pretty low down there, but it related so I decided to share. I think “an historic” is actually more common these days than “a historic,” so maybe I’ll get used to it in time ;)

    And it’s not nearly as bad as the email I just got from my boss which said “There is an learning developement form…”

  73. emmy- yeah, when I started reading the Da Vinci Code, I had to look it up to see if it was a real field of study. It is, but it hasn’t been around that long (I don’t think…)

  74. I got them all, but I only got #8 because I knew there was a mistake in it.

    NPR uses “enormity” to mean “very large” all the time. I suspect that fight is lost.

    I read Buckley’s _Cancel Your Own Goddam Subscription_ recently, and his word use looked pretty good. What am I missing?

  75. Stupid smiley! That is not supposed to be a smiley! In Eats, Shoots, and Leaves, she discusses the fact that there are differing opinons regarding the need to have a full stop after a paranthetical or not. I guess that the answer is “yes”, lest we have our paratheses confused with smiley faces.

  76. I figured them all out- and was especially on the money with #8. I am such a geek that ABBA’s Super Trouper album CD is in my desk. ;-)

  77. O, it warms the cockles of my cold stony heart to see so many spelling pedants. A little part of me dies every time I see the word “alot,” which, of course, is not really a word. I credit my senior high school English teacher for her “F-list,” a compilation of grammatical/spelling errors for which a paper would instantaneously receive a failing grade if one was found. The three “theres” were there, as well as the “its” and “whom v. which or who.” I also grew up with a grandfather who launched a tirade if we said something like “Joey and me want to go to 7-11,” and not for the convenience store part of it.

    I’ve heard “Eats, Shoots, and Leaves” is riotously funny for those of us who give a shit about this sort of thing. I do try to be a little more compassionate, though, since it seems whenever I make a snide remark about someone’s spelling and/or punctuation, inevitably I make an error myself. Karma’s a bitch.

  78. Nancy, FWIW I think “goddam” should be “goddamned.” I have no idea what you’re talking about otherwise.

    O! Yes, we also had the “yours” on the F-list.

  79. NPR uses “enormity” to mean “very large” all the time.

    WHAT? NPR, you traitor, I expected better of you!

  80. Got them all, including #8–yay! Of course, I’m a complete grammar and spelling whore, which I think is mostly the fault of four years of Latin in high school and a minor in college. It’s amazing what having to learn obscure grammatical constructions (gerundive of purpose, woohoo) in another language does for your understanding of your own!

    I have to brag too that professors did slightly sketchy things to be able to pay me professional proofreading rates instead of the student employment hourly when I was in school; they said I was better than most actual professionals. Yeah, I’m cocky. And actually, if I could proofread for a living now, I would squee myself.

    Word on the apostrophe issues; they make me stabby. Also, which vs. that is a pet peeve of mine.

  81. The single funniest grammatical error I have ever seen was on my Father’s memorial card. My Mother had chosen a poem, the last line of which should have been

    “God wants me now; He’s set me free”.

    The cards that arrived said

    “God wants me not; He’s set me free”.

    Brilliant. Best error ever.

  82. Margaret- That is by far the funniest thing I have seen today. And I am doing stats today, so that’s quite an achievement :) (smiley intended)

  83. My biggest pet peeves are as follows:

    “Whenever I was at your house last.”

    “Everyone has cell phones anymore”

    Also, when I spell a word so poorly that the spell check doesn’t actually come up with the correct option.

    I can’t even really tell you why either of the first two are wrong. My only knowledge of the rules of grammar and spelling is by osmosis. I completely ignored everything they tried to teach me in grade school and read The Saddle Club instead. So, I know if it sounds wrong, but I certainly can’t tell you what rule says that it is wrong.

    Also, my biggest challenges are the words Kindof and alot. Neither of which actually exist. Oh and I spell the word definetly wrong every time i type it. (I mean definitely, but my fingers learned it wrong. )

  84. I’m fond of The Deluxe Transitive Vampire by Karen Elizabeth Gordon. She has some other fun ones, as well. Imagine Edward Gorey writing guides to grammar.

    Who, on earth (or any other planet) would think that ‘lacks toast and tolerant’ meant anything at all? Under what circumstances would a person be writing about lactose intolerance and actually think it involved missing bread products?

  85. Oh-does anyone else love rearranging sentences into delightfully awkward constructions in order to avoid ending senteces or phases with prepositions?

  86. Margaret, there was an error/typo in the poem printed in my grandmother’s memorial card, I can’t remember what it was right now but I couldn’t even read the thing without being irked by it.

    Your father’s is much funnier than whatever hers was though. :)

  87. Oh, thank you all so much for your compliments and your comments, both here and at my blog.

    car — you win the prize for picking up on my reference to The Office (it was intentional). :)

    Margaret, that is truly the most perfect error ever. Sounds like your family has the same sense of gallows humor that ours does. When our mother was literally on her deathbed, and we were all praying for her to pass peacefully away rather than struggling on and on with every breath, I tried to help her along by standing on a chair and singing a song, since everyone knows “it ain’t over ’til the fat lady sings.” (Mom was the one who gave us our sense of humor, so I think she appreciated it.)

    FJ (I think it was you) — YES! OMG EXpresso. Grr. It’s a rarity to hear it pronounced properly.

    I could have made that quiz miles longer, but I was trying to use words that a) might conceivably appear on a resume, and b) hadn’t been discussed a million times elsewhere.

    Thanks, y’all!

  88. Speaking of funereal typos, I have an obituary that I saved from a newspaper that talks about the guy being survived by his two elderly cunts.

    I bet old Aunt Myrtle and Aunt Bessie weren’t amused.

  89. One neighbor’s house is labelled “The Duane’s”

    My own brother’s family e-mail comes from “The Harding’s,” which I’m quite sure is keeping my mother from resting in peace. I’ve registered complaints, but to no avail.

    In 8th grade, we had the option of making a sign like “The Duane’s.” The example the wood shop teacher showed me had the apostrophe incorrect like that. When I stenciled our family name onto the sign, I left it out. You know, ’cause it was WRONG.

    However, we were not allowed to use the router, so the teacher was the one who actually cut the design into the sign. And when he did so, he PUT IT BACK IN. I was so irritated. I spent forever sanding that apostrophe out by hand. I mean, there was still a dent in the sign that looked kind of bad, but at least the misplaced apostrophe was gone. :)

    Another story: My brother recently got an MBA from a smaller local university. At the graduation ceremony they had the banners denoting all the various academic units (e.g. School of Business, School of Nursing, etc.) sitting on the stage, as is typical. As I sat there before the ceremony, I noticed something weird about the spacing of the letters on the Honors College banner–it looked like there was too much space between the “r” and the “s.” I’m sure you can all see where this is going. Upon closer examination, you could tell that the banner actually said “The Honor’s College,” and someone had blacked out the apostrophe with Sharpie or something. Seriously. Of all the banners to screw up (and I mean, they were embroidered, appliqued, nice banners that probably cost a lot of money, so NONE of them should have had an error) you screw up the HONORS COLLEGE one?!

    I swear this is actually a decent school…

  90. 10/10! That’s what a good legal education will buy you, these days.

    The one I had a hard time finding was actually #9 – funny enough, because my aunt made that very mistake on her resume when describing her extensive public speaking skills and experience, and I use that story all the time to preach the virtues of a second set of eyes.

    But I agree with some of the comments who said – this might not be a spell check problem entirely. Words like “trouper” and “piqued” don’t come up often, and most people aren’t likely to have seen them written. It’s not unreasonable to turn “peak” into a transitive verb there, and it almost makes sense that way – I think it’s quite likely that many people don’t realize that these words in the idioms are actually not their more common cousins.

  91. This is only marginally related, but hey, marginally is pretty good for a Friday.

    Two of the social workers here at my office began keeping a list a few years back of alternate spellings of “pregnant” our clients wrote on their applications. It was abandoned after a few short months when the list grew to over 50 spellings and we all just became really depressed.

  92. JPlum, guilty as charged. And it drives me bonkers when I’m using a phrase that naturally ends in a preposition, like “making fun of.” Sooo…”I have nobody of whom to make fun?” :eyeroll:

  93. BTW, Kate, your darling dyslexic nephew Timothy would be LOST without a spell checker (and his mother) so I can’t really get behind the concept that the spell checkers themselves are evil — it’s our assumption that they are as infallible as a human pedant that causes so many problems.

  94. Oh I forgot one, apostrophe craziness. Every week my group publishes a set of figures for publication. We put these in a document along with some commentary and send it to our PR firm. Well the notes are called the Speaker’s Notes. As in, notes for whoever is talking.

    My subordinate CONSTANTLY leaves out the apostrophe, so he sends out a weekly e-mail whose subject is two random plural nouns. Speakers Notes

  95. Kate’s sister J- That is so funny! Did you see the Curb Your Enthusiasm episode with that exact typo? I think it was “beloved cunt”…and of course Larry David was to blame :)

  96. I fully missed Pubic Defender.

    Diffuse amused me because I used to get that wrong, but it was because I misunderstood the metaphor. I really thought that tense situation was dusting away like a vampire on Buffy, and then one day it came to me that getting rid of the fuses made more sense.

    (Of course my de-lurking comment would be for the grammar, not any of the brave stuff.)

  97. You know, as someone who has dear friends who are severly dyslexic, who married someone who is severly dyslexic and who is moderately dyslexic herself, I really find this post hurtful. Not everyone has the benefit of being able to spell well. I have the advantage of being only moderately dyslexic and I have an English degree. I worked damned hard for that degree in spite of my poor spelling. I know my husband and some friends have such poor spelling and reading skills that they feel embarrassed by those around them who continually mock bad spellers regardless of how hard they try to improve themselves. It’s not their fault they can’t spell even though they are incredibly intelligent people!

    I know lots of people mock poor spelling and no harm is meant by it but please be aware that for people with dyslexia, it can be a reminder of how they aren’t “normal” in this society and it can be incredibly hurtful. Shaming people for their inability to spell will not make them better spellers.

  98. I got ’em all. The funny thing is that I got #8 because of a book I was rereading this morning that used the correct version of that word and I wanted to verify it was correct.

    I also do proofreading and editing occasionally which helps!

    I am a pretty good speller/grammarian, but I still use spellcheck because I am not the world’s greatest typist. However, important documents like resumes get checked over by someone else multiple times because there’s really no substitute.

  99. haha, the only one i missed was manager/manger . . . i read too quickly.

    the peaked/piqued is one of my pet peeves. it irks me to no end.

    i don’t always type in full sentences (and i use lots of run-ons), and i don’t use capital letter very often. . . but at least i can spell!

  100. Caught them all except for the “compliment” one, but I think that was just a personal eggcorn (because it sort of, even still, makes sense to me).

    Though I have to admit that even though I caught the “lead” one, I only caught it because I mess that one up all the time. I always want to spell led as lead because I associate lead (leed, like leader) with with read (like someone who reads) and the past-tense for read is read (pronounced red) and so I feel like the past-tense for lead (leed) should be lead (led).

    If that makes sense. I know I’m doing it wrong, but even as I’m doing it wrong it feels like it should be right. And then when I do it right, I look at it and go “But that’s wrong!”

    There are several changes like that, which, if I were in charge of English, would have totally been made years ago. Because I learn this stuff by paying attention to the patterns and then when some word goes “fuck the patterns! I have my own rules” I’m like “Fuck you, word!”

    Like, with most adjectives to increase the intensity you just add “er” and “est” to the end.

    Red. Redder. Reddest. Dark. Darker. Darkest.

    Good. Better? Best? Where did the Bs come from???? How the hell does that work?

    Which is why I know the origins of lots of words. Because I feel like I have to look up how people came up with it before I can remember it. Etymology is my friend.

    (Which still doesn’t explain good, better, best. You’d think that would have been two different sets of words. Good. Gooder. Goodest. And Bet (or Betara, which is the word the others originate from). Better. Best. Why one set of variant value words would come from two different root words makes no sense to me).

    And that sort of thing is what’s behind a lot of my spelling (and speaking) errors. I can’t just memorize. I have to understand. And a lot of that stuff doesn’t make any sense.

    *hides in corner*

  101. Caralyn- I never really thought of it from that perspective. And I actually did read a bunch of stuff yesterday about disabilities, but just didn’t transfer those lessons to this post. But now that you point it out, you are so right.

    I’m sorry.

  102. I got them all too, and I too admit to being an apostrophe fanatic. My personal eggcorn peeve is “seized the reigns of power” (or whatever), rather than “seized the reins”, as of course it ought to be ; ) I have seen this in too many printed books.

  103. I got them all right, but this reminds me of a sad story.

    I was still looking for a decent job because my boss of 12 years had just retired, and I had just graduated college. What I had was simply a way of pulling in enough money to barely keep me out of foreclosure.

    I discovered a college pal had found a job as an editor with a nationwide engineering company. Her specialty was resumes. She told me that the company was always looking for more editors, and they had a branch somewhat near my home. I should send her my resume and she’d forward it on.

    She wrote back, said she’d done some fixing on the resume and had forwarded it to the nearby branch.


    She made some changes in the way I had presented the info that I could see were definitely improvements. And she had added about five glaring typos.

    I never got a call from her company.

  104. Caralyn,

    I can relate! I mentioned in a prior comment that I am living with dyscalculia (which is a learning disability involving, math, ordering [which fuck’s up my spelling at times], coordination, etc, and I feel the same way any time someone mentions how easy it is to do math in your head or makes a joke about someone need a calculator for even so-called simple math problems.

    I am sure that no one here meant any harm, but that doesn’t change the sting for those who are dealing with what you and your husband do. I am personally sorry if I said anything hurtful, and I thank you for reminding us that things we often take for granted can be a real struggle for others.

  105. Got ’em all too, but I’m a writer, and the daughter of an English teacher- I didn’t exactly have a choice in knowing these things :-)

  106. One neighbor’s house is labelled “The Duane’s” and every time I walk by I sketch a little salute because I am passing the house of The One and Only Duane. All Hail the Duane of Maynard!

    This is hilarious.

    But using “their” as singular is so common, there’s never any confusion about what you’re trying to say, even if it makes pedants squirm.

    To second LilahMorgan: Jane Austen did it, therefore it is not wrong. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

  107. Woot! Got ’em all. Though if I hadn’t known in advance something was wrong with #8 I might not have gotten it. I don’t use spellcheck but the only time it pisses me off is when I’m writing casually (like online conversation) and it underlines shit I don’t want it to. I was also one of those for whom spelling and grammar (an ‘ear for the language’) came naturally and easily, then fueled by endless bookreading. So really I’m with kate in that I can’t brag, since reading was something I just *had* to do (have to) and the mechanics came very very easily. It would be a lot more for me personally to brag about if I actually took up a sport or something, since that isn’t something that comes easily or naturally to me :)

  108. May I add that I truly detest “usage” dictionaries, which people use to justify using words like “enormity” for “great size?

    Sage, i second that “reflexive pronoun” peeve. That one bothers me so much that I have to rely on suppression to keep me from going postal. It’s closely ties with the misuse of compound subjects in general. My mother always told us that if we would use “I” without the second pronoun, we should use “I” with it. The same goes for “me.”

  109. Irregardless! I fucking HATE it when people say that… I invited a friend to give a research seminar to my department, and she said it. She holds that it absolutely is an acceptable alternative to regardless.


    Okay, listen up, peeps.

    “Ir” is a prefix meaning NOT, similar to “Un” “A” and “In”. If something is IR-something, that means it is NOT-something. The prefix is most often applied to words beginning with R (e.g., irreconcilable = not reconcilable).

    Regardless, when you take into account the suffix “less”, means Without Regard. If you add “Ir” it becomes Not Without Regard.

    Which is a double negative anyway. Just say “With regard” and save yourself some time.

    (though, actually, what would be the adverb to indicate “with regard”? Regardedly? I’m pretty sure that’s not a word. Irregardless seems like a pretty pathetically long word to get the point across, though. Just say “with regard”).

    ANYWAY – if you mean something along the lines of “despite” or are in any disregarding information, the word you want is REGARDLESS. IRREGARDLESS is the exact OPPOSITE of what you are saying. It’s the ANTONYM. You make yourself look like an ASS by using it.


    Oh, and on guesstimate, though it’s not a word I particularly enjoy, I have to disagree on it being redundant.

    Guess = completely random, more often than not. Guess which door the prize is behind! Guess is used when you have no information to base your assumptions on.

    Estimate = rough calculation based on available information. I estimate the tax is going to be about $2.50. I’m not going to do the complete math in the store, but based on information available and my knowledge of numbers I can get close to the actual value. Estimating is more precise.

    Guesstimate = rough calculations based on guesses. Somewhere in between Guess and Estimate.

    I don’t like the word (as I feel there are very few situations in the real word where it actually applies – most occasions where people use it, they mean “estimate”), but that doesn’t make it redundant.

    And on diffuse/defuse, I also thought it was diffuse until about 10th grade when I was reading a book which used the phrase and then I was like “Oh!”

    But I don’t really have a problem with either, because I feel like they both make sense (which is probably why the error is so common, because the alternate metaphor still works).

  110. …and redundancies like “past history,” “continue on,” and “reason why.” (Hi, I’m Kate and I’m a grammar Nazi.)

  111. I’ve also spent the last six months trying to convince the engineers with whom I work that the word is “dissociate” NOT “disAssociate”. The “dis” and the “a” prefixes are opposites in this case. It’s like “assent” and “dissent.” One never hears anyone say “disassent.”

  112. If I wasn’t so sleepy/delirious, I would totally take that quiz. If I took it in my current state, I would probably fail, badly.

  113. I’m with Emmy on the “defiantly.” I taught a freshman college class for the first time this fall, and that one drove me nuts. It’s one thing if you don’t know how to spell definitely. It’s a tricky word; I understand. But don’t you re-read your paper through before turning it in and notice that “defiantly” is NOT what you meant? I think next year I will tell them ahead of time that I’ll take off points every time I see the word defiantly in their papers!

  114. Ah pet peeves, I like those.
    1. “A women.” Women is plural, not singular. I see this way too often.
    2. “Intensive purposes.” AAAAAA!
    3. Could/should/would OF instead of have
    4. “Rediculous.”

    Not saying I see these here but I see them a lot and they are like biting on tinfoil.

  115. HAHA, pubic defender. When the commencement speaker for my high school sent over his resume he had “experienced pubic speaker” as one of his qualifications.

  116. Caralyn,
    Maybe we’re getting out of hand with our flippant comments, but nobody here is trying to shame anyone about their differences. It’s basically all tongue in cheek, because this blog’s entire raison d’etre is to help people accept themselves exactly as they are.

    As Kate said, “…spelling is something that came so naturally to me I can’t really take any credit for my abilities, and other people are undoubtedly as grateful for spell checkers as I am for calculators…” (because as good as she is with words, that’s almost how bad she is with numbers :)

    After all, the very definition of “pedant” is “n : a person who pays more attention to formal rules and book learning than they merit”

    And that comes from my favorite online dictionary, which is a good one for dyslexics (like MY son and husband!) because it starts offering suggestions as soon as you start typing letters, lik eif you type in “d-e-f” it will show you a bunch of word starting with def, and the list narrows as you type more letters.

    Anyway, so sorry if you were hurt. Around here, we love people who have quirks and blemishes and disabilities and hyperabilities and oddities and sensitivities. And if they’re fat, we love them even a little more equally. .)

  117. Eucritta: the term for someone who uses a 25-cent word where a 10-cent word would suffice is “sesquipedalian.” And using more words than are necessary to say the same thing, as in “a true fact!” would be pleonasm, or pleonastic.

    I blame low levels of reading for pleasure for broken idioms. People only hear words, they don’t see them. Which is why I see “for all-intensive purposes” all the freakin’ time, and why I heard “We need to call in the Calvary!” on an episode of Numb3rs. I no longer watch the news because I cannot stand the many malapropisms.

    If it helps anyone, here is how I remember deserts/desserts: there used to be a mural in my hometown that read, “‘My people are the people of the dessert,’ said T.E. Lawrence, picking up his fork.”

    “If I was” instead of “If I were” and “Can I..?” instead of “May I…?” drive me insane, for the record. I’m willing to bend on the “dinner is done, but people are finished” thing, though.

    I think that writing a resume to accompany an application for work at a resume-writing firm would make me feel terribly insecure.

  118. I missed number 10; and if I hadn’t known we were looking for mistakes, I would have missed more. I find myself making mistakes more frequently than I used to, I blame it on age; but I’ve never been a good speller, just good enough a reader to recognize when a word is simply wrong. (Affect vs effect is the classic one.)

    I like spell checkers and online dictionaries precisely because I’m a bad speller, but I know what I want to say. I use them to correct mistakes, but not to do all my editing and word choice. I ignore them when they don’t have a word I know myself, and offer a plateful of different wrong choices. I dislike them in books I read, it seems like every other book I read nowadays hasn’t had the benefit of an editor, just a quick run through the spell checker.

    I don’t mind typos, probably because I have sympathy with people who have difficulty coordinating all their fingers together, like me.

    I loathe textspeak. I just skip messages that use it. (Puts on curmudgeon’s hat and grumbles to self.)

  119. Kate217, regarding “past history”: In medical reports like admission notes and consultations, they have standard headers like “History of Present Illness,” and “Past Medical History,” to differentiate the reason for the admission or consult from just the person’s general medical history. But a lot of doctors do abbreviate the latter to “Past History.”

    My job requires that I be able to distinguish sound-alikes (iliac/ileac, glands/glans, perineal/peroneal, etc.) and real-but-not-right words (hypo- versus hyper- thyroid, glycemic, natremic, volemic, kalemic, etc.) on pretty much a constant basis, not to mention the fact that there are about ten kazillion medications, bits of medical equipment, procedures, dosages, wev, which could easily be misidentified if not actually misspelled, and sometimes the dictators themselves don’t even identify them correctly and it’s up to me to determine what it was they actually meant (uh, doc, you don’t really mean 100 milligrams of fentanyl since that could actually kill someone, 100 micrograms is more like it). So no need for anyone to apologize for being “anal” about such things, you never know when it could save someone’s life!

  120. Caralyn, my sister said what I would have said. I have a non-verbal LD myself, so I know the “not normal” feeling well–but as J. pointed out, I used the word “pedant” and mentioned my own lack of arithmetic skills specifically to acknowledge that everything I have to say about poor spelling is very tongue-in-cheek. I’m sorry you were hurt.

  121. So, I missed #8 because I had NO IDEA that THAT was the origin of that phrase. Learn something new every damned day, right?

    In the spirit of discussing amusing errors, I saw an ad on the subway today for a dermatologist that referred to “scaring” instead of “scarring.” Nice.

  122. I’m adding my voice to the tongue-in-cheek group. To be perfectly honest, most of the time I don’t actually care at all, and I’ve taken to messing up my grammar or spelling on purpose quite frequently, simply because I tend to find the end result amusing*. And while I think, if a personal has the capability, learning proper spelling and grammar can be beneficial, I hardly think it’s all that important. My rule tends tends to be “Did people understand what you meant?” and if so, then you’re fine. My father and my younger brother both fail miserably when it comes to grammar, spelling, and writing in general. But they’re two of the most intelligent people I know. My dad was always the answer guy when I was a kid and had a science-y question, explaining television and cell phones and grass.

    So, Caralyn, I hope I didn’t hurt your feelings. I was just being pedantic because I rarely get a pulpit to babble about all my weird language quirks.

    *for instance, when I feel I can get away with it, I will use “diffuse” instead of “defuse” because the former metaphor entertains me by creating a bizarre mental image.

    Or I will say something along the lines of “This tastes like delicious”, which is usually interpreted as “This tastes, like, delicious” with people assuming that I am improperly using “like” as a meaningless adverb, when in fact I am improperly using “delicious” as a noun. This is doubly entertaining, because then I get to imagine what a delicious would look like, and I start thinking about philosophy and Plato’s forms.


  123. Or I will say something along the lines of “This tastes like delicious”, which is usually interpreted as “This tastes, like, delicious” with people assuming that I am improperly using “like” as a meaningless adverb, when in fact I am improperly using “delicious” as a noun. This is doubly entertaining, because then I get to imagine what a delicious would look like, and I start thinking about philosophy and Plato’s forms.

    Time-Machine, are you single? :-)

  124. Totally; want to hook up backstage after the next Piggy Moo concert? :-)

    Although after that “and” vs. “an” slip, I don’t know . . .

  125. Can’t believe MY personal pet peeve has not yet been mentioned: “I” for “me” as in “She gave it to Cindy and I.”

    This bothers me soooooooo much; I’d much rather hear “me” for “I” (“Me and Cindy went to the store.”). My preference doesn’t make sense, but there it is.

  126. Totally; want to hook up backstage after the next Piggy Moo concert? :-)

    Although after that “and” vs. “an” slip, I don’t know . . .

    Oh, we’re totally going to hook up. And trust me, once you see what I can do with participles, you won’t give a damn even if I mix up an with ampersand.

  127. Yikes I only got 2. (and only because ‘lead’ made an appearance in the first sentence of my cover letter last summer) …. I do okay with spelling but can not proofread to save my life.
    Starting a new job search this week, guess this is a good reminder to have someone else read my shit before I send it out.

  128. As someone with English as a Second Language, I did pretty bad and got about three answers right. This quiz is really useful, anyway, and I have already bookmarked it. Thank you so much!

  129. I understand the tongue-in-cheek nature of this post and I know no offese was meant. I guess I wanted to draw attention to how people with dyslexia feel when a conversation around “I can’t stand when people spell such-and-such badly” gets going. (I’ve been in social situations where people will get on their high horses ranting about spelling (I’m not saying this post is like that though!) while my husband and I get more and more upset.) People don’t mean to be rude but ablism (spelling privilege?) should be talked about when it is (or might be/could be) present. My husband grew up when learning disabilities labeled the child “stupid” instead of offering support or techniques to help. My husband (and friends) grew up being shamed into spelling better and all that accomplished was making them feel ashamed of themselves (funny how that works!).

    Again, I know no offense was meant but it can be a very fine line between humour and insult when it comes to nonvisible disabilities.

  130. I agree with all of you guys–I try to keep any spelling and grammar abilities that I might have in perspective (e.g., as Kate said, it’s basically pedantry and anal-retentiveness). I’m pretty sure it’s at least partially innate anyway (and I suspect the rest is from reading 24/7 when I was little because I preferred that to going outside :) ), so it’s not like I can take any “credit” for it. And I certainly don’t think it makes you smart to be able to spell well, or that those who don’t are stupid, so I hope the discussion isn’t coming off that way.

    I do wish people in general still cared about proper spelling and grammar; they seem to have been relegated to “stuff only eggheads care about,” which personally offends me because I feel like it’s a symptom of anti-academic attitudes in society, and also seems to be causing many people’s writing to be almost unintelligible. (Nice unintelligible sentence accusing others of being unintelligible, huh? :) ) But of course that criticism (that I wish people would put a higher priority on learning to use the language properly) does not apply to people who have a hard time with written or verbal communication for whatever reason. I don’t mean to say “wire your brain differently than how it is!” or anything like that.

    If we were having some kind of discussion about “people who have no ability to talk on the phone or to clients,” then I would be seeing myself in every comment. :) (I’m not comparing that to a learning disability by any stretch, but I am really, really bad at communicating verbally under pressure.)

  131. Whoops, Caralyn, I didn’t see your comment before I posted mine, or I wouldn’t have basically gone “what they said” after you already responded. I agree that raising awareness of ableism wherever it occurs can only be a positive thing.

  132. when in fact I am improperly using “delicious” as a noun.

    ! I regularly proclaim, “This tastes like awesome” or (my favourite) “This tastes like Jesus!” (implied: if Jesus were a food item). Creative misuse of language is one of my favourite activites. My current kick is using adjectives as nouns in a different way — as in “I have all the tired” or “Man, I have none of the productive this morning”.

    Some people have a life; I have altering word categories. We all make our own fun the best we can. :D

  133. On the subject of pet peeves, this happened just now:

    Woman on TV: I just went to, and you can literally take a test drive!
    FJ and Dan, simultaneously: NO YOU CAN’T!

  134. Sorry, Caralyn.

    I hope we didn’t make you feel too alienated. Like Jae, I’m a dyscalculiac. Though, mine takes a different form. Write the word “three” and I totally get what that means. Show me the number 3, and I literally have to count the protrusions on the left side to make sense of it. Otherwise, I might think it’s an eight. Six and nine are troublesome, too. It’s gotten easier with practice, but I can still sometimes look at a simple equation and go all “Ba-roo?”

    I say that just so you know that, really, some of us do understand learning disabilities. And that’s so not what we’ve been bitching about. I don’t think anyone here looks down on someone for having a little trouble with the language. English is pretty difficult to begin with, after all.

    But, here’s the thing about pet peeves. There are certain little things you see every day that start to get under your skin. And it’s not always intellectual. Maybe it’s ill-fitting pants. But it starts to bug you a little, so you share it with a like minded group, and everyone shares their own pet peeves about pants, until, oops, you realize someone in the room has one leg and has a lot of pants trouble, and you feel like a total ass. You didn’t mean to be an ass, and skinny jeans still kind of piss you off, but it sucks that in blowing off steam, you accidentally made someone feel excluded. (That’s, oddly enough, a true story.)

    So, anyway, though I’m rambling, and addled by a too large glass of wine with my dinner, what I’m trying to say is, sorry. I totally like your pants.

  135. Oh yes… literally… *shudders*

    Whatever happened to “literally a weblog” is anyone still running that show?

  136. I got them all right, which surprised me, as I often get to typing so fast that I make these types of mistakes frequently.

    On a happier note, a misguided spell-checker helped create the name for my business. A friend sent me an email in which she was trying to tell me about a new restaurant (with a Spanish name) — her spell-checker “corrected” her word to a word that actually is a word, but one that I didn’t know. When I looked it up, and found it’s meeting — Shazam! — our new business had a perfect name!

  137. FJ: My husband had exactly the same response to that commercial. Since I go all comatose during commercial breaks, I had to have him explain to me why he just yelled at the television. Which started him on a rant until the show started again. Then, it was just grumbles of “Fucking literally, my ass. Douchebag.”

  138. Write the word “three” and I totally get what that means. Show me the number 3, and I literally have to count the protrusions on the left side to make sense of it. Otherwise, I might think it’s an eight. Six and nine are troublesome, too.

    I’m so fascinated that this came up — I’ve had a “weird” issue my whole life with four and five. If you say those numerals to me, I can repeat them back correctly; if I see “4” or “5” written down, I can copy the numerals correctly; but all hell breaks loose if you say them and expect me to write them down correctly, or if I have them written and you expect me to read them out loud correctly. Especially if they’re next to one another; it just ain’t gonna happen.

    Which wouldn’t be that big a deal, really, except… my new address is made up entirely of 4s and 5s. I called my boyfriend last night to double-check that I had them in the right order, I repeated that order back to him, hung up the phone, picked up my pen to write it on a form, and had absolutely no memory of which way ’round they went.

    It’s bizarre. I’m not like this with any other numeral. I’m so glad to hear that other people have numeral-specific problems, too!

  139. Funny story about spelling.
    My best friend from childhood (we’re no longer that close but we do try to see each other occasionally) has always been a poor speller, since kindergarten, she probably has a mild form of dyslexia or another learning disability and its really the only thing academically that she has ever struggled with because she’s very bright and a super hard worker, she just has trouble with spelling.

    When my boyfriend briefly met her about a year ago (the same one who is an unapologetic pedant and copy-editor) we were talking about the interaction later and he goes “is she a bad speller” he had somehow intuited from meeting her that she had difficulty speling and I had no idea how… neither does he. She does have a very similar personality to his dear sister who does have an LD that makes spelling difficult so maybe that was part of it, I don’t know. It boggles my mind.

  140. That people treat spell check as a substitute for proofreading isn’t spell check’s fault. I love spell check desperately, because I have a terrible spelling-memory, so it allows me to write much quicker than i’d be able to if I was consulting the dictionary every other word I wrote. Which helps me keep my train of thought. I love, love, love it. But I also proofread everything I write nearly to death, so I catch the right-spelling/wrong-word situations that spell check can’t.

    But using “their” as singular is so common, there’s never any confusion about what you’re trying to say, even if it makes pedants squirm.

    I know it’s not grammatically “correct”, so I find a way to not do that in anything serious I’m writing. But I’m a big fan of all that is vernacular, and have no problem using it in everyday speech. (I have to admit that I even kind of enjoy making the pedants squirm.)

  141. occhiblu- That’s pretty classic dyscalculea. If you have better luck with the words, try writing it out as “Four, four, five.” Or make tick marks. Whatever makes sense in your head. You can always translate it for other people later. I do memory tricks. A four is nice and square, with four sides, a five looks like a pregnant four, so one more on the way. Stuff like that.

  142. I got them all correct too; but my students constantly misuse they’re, there, and their. Infuriating!!!

  143. I am passionately in love with the Spanish spelling and grammar check on my computer, because FIVE YEARS of Spanish in high school and college have not been enough to convince me that “problema” is a MASCULINE noun–my brain sees the “a” and insists it’s feminine. Spanish grammar check has saved my life countless times.

    I was super spelling bee girl in middle school and I almost never requre spellcheck when writing in English, but getting really into linguistics has made me much less pedantic than I was before. The first time someone explained to me the difference between descriptivism and prescriptivism, it was kind of a road-to-Damascus moment. Also, to whoever posted the list of commonly mispronounced words, I wanna point out that written language is a representation of spoken language, not the other way around.

    But I still got all 10 right. So.

  144. Since I go all comatose during commercial breaks, I had to have him explain to me why he just yelled at the television.

    Hee hee, this normally happens in my house too. I just switch off my listening during commercials most of the time, so when Dan says something to the screen I just gape at him like a guppy.

    I only just remembered that some friends of mine developed a personality test based on what spellcheck suggested your name should be. (This came, I think, from the fact that it suggested “krishna” for “Kristi.”) Unfortunately my version of Word seems to know a lot of common names, including Kristi.

  145. a five looks like a pregnant four, so one more on the way.

    Hee! I actually suspect this is what got me in trouble in the first place — I remember being very young and very much convinced that Five was Six’s mother, and she was standing in front of Six to protect her from Four, who was evil for some reason.

    So I think I sense such a strong relationship between Four and Five that they get confused. Or something.

    But I may need to start writing out the numbers for this address; I was hoping that repetition would help, but I think it’s just making it worse. Plus, writing it out will make it look all fancy.

  146. I totally understand the ablism argument here and meant no offense. I have mild dyslexia (“was” and “saw” are the same word dontcha know) and mild dyscalculea (especially with 3s and 8s), so I have to work at it, but having been such a big reader as well as a professional editor for so long, sometimes the “wrong” just sets my teeth on edge.

  147. On the subject of language, especially negatives like irregardless, see The Dictionary of Jack at

    I have to admit that my fingers twitch whenever I see apostrophes in plurals (and my eyes). Once I could actually erase an apostropher on a menu written on a board with chalk. That made my day.

    My pet peeve is people using “nazi” as in “soup nazi” or “grammar nazi”. (sorry, kate217, I am not trying to annoy you personally). Nazis were not some guys that were endearingly strict about some aspect of their or other people’s lives. They were some serious asshats that killed millions of people. Please please think about what that word means when using it.

  148. This is a spoken, rather than written, transgression, but it drives me up the mofo wall:

    “The fact of the matter IS, is that…”

  149. I got two wrong because I started reading through too fast – usually I am a spelling freak because it’s something I tend to be good at… You know what my big thing is? “I could care less” instead of “I couldn’t care less”. UGH. It irks the hell out of me. And apostrophes people stick in, like “The Morrison’s” on a sign outside someone’s house. Why, people, why?? It hurts me.

  150. @Jae. Sorry if someone has already mentioned this, but all words that begin with ‘h’ take an ‘an.’ It’s actually an error when they don’t, but this rule has dropped out of popular usage. So ‘an historic occasion’ is absolutely correct.

  151. I got them all, but I’m an editor. And I did have to read the Pubic Defender one a couple of times to spot the mistake. Although, I kind of like the idea of a pubic defender – someone to step in and tell the skeezy guy at the bar, ‘I’m sorry sir, but her vagina is not interested.’

    I dislike spellcheck for all the reasons listed above and because it insists on changing everything to American spelling. I spend a lot of time changing words back to Australian/British spelling in the manuscripts of authors who rely on spellcheck.

    And one of my pet peeves is pronunciation – especially people who say pronOUnciation rather than proNUNciation. I’ve pretty much made myself universally hated for picking up people on that particular mistake.

  152. I got all but 8, I had no idea that the derivation was theatrical rather than military. “Pubic Defender” made me snort laugh and envision the same scenario as you did, Rosiecakes.

    “could care less” makes me stabby. So do:

    suicidal ideations
    old fashion
    less instead of fewer
    “I “when “me” is correct – “The King and ME” damn it!

    One of our main database programmers at work definitely has a word related learning disability of some kind, and I constantly have to spell check the database documents for HER permanently present mistakes. Not her fault, I understand. It’s embarrassing that nobody else in the department cares enough about our agency’s professional reputation to correct the spelling errors in the headings. I know that most people filling the forms out and sending them to other places like hospitals don’t bother.

  153. Oh, I actually say something that annoys other people. When I agree with a negative statement someone has just said, I say “Yeah, no! I totally agree!”

    I also get really annoyed by my undergrads who email me like they are sending a text message. WTF? I am not authoritarian by any stretch of the imagination, but that is really pushing it.

  154. Oh, and “aren’t I?” Ah Ah Ah Ah!

    I always point this out to middle class white people who snipe about Black English being ungrammatical rather than simply a matter of dialect. Informal spoken language is not the same as academic and published language.

    Oh, and from stages of change theory, “precontemplative.” Especially because it’s pronounced “pre CAHN tem plate iv” instead of “pre con TEM plah tiv” If a person uses drugs and has no intention of stopping, or won’t take psych meds because they would rather just deal with voices than sleep sixteen hours a day, they are labeled “precontemplative.” Even though by that standard I can just classify anybody who disagrees with me about anything for any reason as “precontemplative.” Which I enjoy doing. I try to argue against this obnoxious category by pointing out that I am NOT a “precontemplative” Republican, I am a Democrat. :)

  155. Mary- Sometimes I think that there has been so much focus on saying “I” and not “me” that people automatically go for the “I” now. I notice it a lot. Or should I say alot? :)

  156. In the early 90s, I was working for the public affairs office of the City of Minneapolis. When the Rodney King riots started, the mayor had a colleague of mine write up a statement to issue to the press. She handed it to me to fax to the media, and while I was waiting for the fax machine, I happened to read this line:

    “What happened to Rodney King was deplorable, and I want all citizens of Minneapolis to know that people here are now treated this way.”

    My favorite spellcheck goof ever.

  157. I’m sorry there was hurt, too. :( Love the pants analogy, though. That seems to sum it up very well.

    As much of a pedant as I am, I can’t multitask verbal/written stuff. I’ve noticed that when I’m lecturing, half of the time the words I write on the board are NOT spelled right the first time. I’ll have to literally (ha!) stop in the middle of saying a word to write it down correctly. I was never good at spelling bees, either, although I never missed a word on a written spelling test. I guess I’m a lot more visual than verbal. (Can’t do math out loud, either, I have to write it down!)

  158. Must be nice to have matriculated in such well funded school districts, many people who can’t grasp basic spelling and grammatical errors didn’t. Almost everything I know about language I had to teach myself in my spare time, I can only imagine how much harder it must be for people who have to spend all of their time working. Everyone is so obsessed with playing Pygmalion that they miss some very large assumptions about class.

    You think just because we jockey registers that we lack intelligence, I’m warning all of you to check your lattes for expectorate this week.

  159. I am not gifted with spelling. I’m a woman of broken letters, and I hatehatehate vowels. I did well on the test, though – got number 8, missed complement. (It’s a VOWEL. Grr.)

    If you want affect/effect disorder, you come to me.

    I can say proudly that I’m getting better, and spell-checks have been a big part of that.

    I make them underline my mistakes, and then change it my own bloody self (using a dictionary when necessary).

  160. Oh, and occhiblu, I have very similar issues. Throw in simple arithmetic – the notation – and I’m totally messed up.

  161. “The King and ME” damn it!

    Okay, explain this to me, because as far as I’m aware both the King and the other person are the nominative (subject), which makes it “The King and I”.

  162. “You think just because we jockey registers that we lack intelligence.”

    First, I don’t think that any of the comments I have read state anything about people behind registers lacking intelligence. As a former register jockey, sandwich slinger, and newspaper delivery person, I don’t have preconceived notions about the intelligence level of the person making my latte.

    Second, I think that the class issue you raise is a good point, Godless Heathen. I was thinking about this last night, but I don’t know very much about the differences in language education between well-funded and poorly-funded districts. Also, my sense from many of the comments here is that a good number of the people commenting were voracious readers, thus picking up an intuitive understanding of language even if they can’t parse a sentence at all. The things that annoy me most are mistakes made by students on final papers AFTER I have offered them my proofreading services prior to the due date for the assignment. I don’t think that has anything to do with class (more with laziness).

    But, again, you are right that there are many class issues associated with education. I don’t know that this particular thread has had commentors deserving of “expectorate” in their lattes, though.

  163. I am currently drafting my resume and I found the link to be invaluable. Like a lot of other people who took the quiz I only scored a sorrowful 4. I knew about stationary bikes but I never knew that “stationery” was spelled differently. Moreover, I have diffused many problems at former jobs–i.e. I took what was an isolated problem and spread it around everywhere.

    I think another common misspelling is previous/pervious (my pervious job was as a pubic defender).

  164. Must be nice to have matriculated in such well funded school districts, many people who can’t grasp basic spelling and grammatical errors didn’t.

    And many people who can’t grasp basic spelling and grammatical errors did. As far as spelling and grammar are concerned, I don’t think there’s as much of a class issue there as you think. Those skills have a lot to do with how people’s brains work and how much people read, and not very much to do with formal education at all. In fact, there’s a move to get away from teaching spelling and grammar, because the old methods for doing so are basically useless for a large percentage of the population–cutting across class lines, I might add–and all they do is frustrate the students who don’t “get it.”

    And this:
    You think just because we jockey registers that we lack intelligence,

    is just out of fucking nowhere. I can handle being called out on my privilege, but not when it involves you making shit up out of whole cloth.

  165. I missed 4, 8 and 10. I’ve never been good at spelling and am highly spell check-dependent. What can I say? I think of myself as a decent writer, but I’m an engineer, not a former English major. Everything I know about writing, I learned in high school or picked up from reading. I often find that I don’t agree with the grammar check, though.
    “Do students in the sciences not receive any training on correctly citing?”
    In my experience, no.

  166. All things in education are cyclical. We teach grammar, then we don’t, then we do again when we realize they don’t know it again. We teach spelling, then we use invented spelling. We use phonics, then we don’t. And every so often we get it right and use a combination of techniques to reach a variety of learning types!

    It seems as if many of you would enjoy Grammar Girl

  167. I’ve read a number of Godless Heathen’s posts, and this sounds like a badly worded joke; rather than genuine anger to me. Her grammar just isn’t that bad usually.

    I have a tiny piece of information to add to the class discussion though. My MIL and FIL volunteer to tutor kids in reading in their Baltimore school district. When they tutored at the school in the wealthy neighborhood the library had two librarians and an extensive collection of books. They were made to feel unwelcome/in the way there, so they changed to a school in a poor neighborhood where they were greeted with enthusiasm. Same district mind you, just a different neighborhood; and the library was half the size and there was no librarian at all.

    Now I have a house where the main form of clutter is books, on the table, on the counters, piled in baskets on the floors etc. and my kids still benefit from their school librarian recommending similar books to their previous interests and talking to them about books. We also do a lot of business with the county library system. If voracious reading is important to spelling and particularly grammar (and it makes intuitive sense that it would), then I think the lack of a librarian and a poorer selection of books would make a huge difference.

    Swinging a do-si-do and going a completely different direction: as much as I loathe textspeak, people are studying its construction and exploring the possibility that it’s a different language. Which is fascinating.

  168. I think if The Scientists scratched the surface of class effects on education, they’d discover less of an advantage than expected (or is that expectorated? Hee). I went to fairly high-end primary and secondary schools and there was a gigantic gaping hole in English language and literature education from, oh, about fifth grade until I was a junior in high school, and even then it was literature that was picking up and not language skills. And I was in the honors classes, too, so that’s no excuse. Frankly, I think a lot of it has to do with the outward, societal emphasis placed on good language skills being relegated to people older than 60 and prudes. Nobody gives a crap about misused apostrophes; I used to point them out to anyone who was within hearing distance and all I got was looks of crazy. People twice my age didn’t care (although that was less frequent). So it seems to me like there’s a “well, if you can understand its meaning then spelling and grammar don’t count” attitude. That I went through several years of school under that umbrella didn’t change my outlook on the matter, so I’m inclined to believe–to hope?–that the educational system is only one of many variables in whether someone takes the initiative to command the English language.

  169. Frankly, I think a lot of it has to do with the outward, societal emphasis placed on good language skills being relegated to people older than 60 and prudes.

    ITA. And I guess you could argue that these things (spelling and standard grammar) really don’t count for much (needless to say I would disagree :) ), but I sometimes experience this attitude as kind of an “anti-ivory-tower” thing, and it sets my teeth on edge.

  170. I got them all right, but I have the freakish ability to “hear” the differences between homophones. (I think it’s related to my synesthesia.) To me, there is a subtle difference in sound between “stationary” and “stationery.” But I realize my brain is wired freakishly.

    Meanwhile, I would be eternally grateful if I could get my husband to use the spell-checker, especially since I know I’ll never train him to (a) spell or (b) use a dictionary. One of his staff even made a giant red button labeled “MISSILES” to replace my husband’s F7 key, knowing full well he wouldn’t be able to resist pressing a giant red button labeled “MISSILES.” (Who can?)

  171. So I go out for the evening – and miss a wild spelling ‘n’ grammar party. Damn!

    Well….I got all of them except for the defuse/diffuse one, but it was about 1.30 a.m. Although I’m a writer, my spelling isn’t brilliant. I mean it’s not crap but there are certain words I can never remember how to spell – most of which, now I reflect upon it, are medical conditions like haemorrhage and diarrhoea, both of which are spelled differently in the US. Fortunately, given that I mainly write about commercial art and design, I don’t have to use them much.

    There is a ton of criticism in the UK about our educational system going to the dogs and grammar standards falling – and, as someone who teaches in higher education, (albeit art students who aren’t necessarily expected to spell), I have to concur. I’ve had to grade many written projects and the standard of written English is truly atrocious. I know it’s already been mentioned but my personal bugbear is also the apostrophe inserted into the plural. I also loathe text speak and lazy-arsed gits who can’t be bothered to type a capital I.

    I taught on one particular programme, (a career management skills module for artists), for 6 years. It was one of the least enjoyable jobs I’ve ever had, as the students hated having to do it and I had to grade over 100 pieces of written work in a very short period of time. My colleagues and I would cheer ourselves up by sharing the best howlers we came across in our students’ research projects. I wish I could remember them all but all I have left are these, which my friend Simon put forward for our Malapropism Of The Year Award:-

    ‘I also explore concepts in which art and music come together, and in a certain manner become simian to one another.’

    ‘…a keen desire to peruse a career within the fashion industry.’

    ‘…captioning a rugby team at school level.’

    ‘…whether they are professionals or armatures.’

    ‘I cannot undermine the importantce of researching titles which relate to my career plans.’

    ‘The trade off is that you don’t get the experience of Woking in an office.’
    (Capitalisation was the student’s. Woking is a rather dull town in the county of Surrey))

    Q; How did you choose your bath?
    (In case you are wondering, she meant ‘path’)

  172. One of his staff even made a giant red button labeled “MISSILES” to replace my husband’s F7 key, knowing full well he wouldn’t be able to resist pressing a giant red button labeled “MISSILES.”

    There’s a clever solution to many of the world’s major problems somewhere in this statement.

    …medical conditions like haemorrhage and diarrhoea, both of which are spelled differently in the US. Fortunately, given that I mainly write about commercial art and design, I don’t have to use them much.

    I think part of the problem with commercial art and design is that they don’t have to use those words very much. Oh, and this would be a good time for me to bring up that I love British spellings even though I grew up American. There’s something so dignified and crisp about them that probably only weirdos like me can appreciate. Maybe not.

  173. This:

    Oh, we’re totally going to hook up. And trust me, once you see what I can do with participles, you won’t give a damn even if I mix up an with ampersand.

    Is hilarious (sp?) Yeah. Even as an English degree holder, my spelling sucks to high heaven, y’all. I missed two of the questions (damn that stationery!) So, if you happen to come across me in public, I have a dictionary (the actual book, not an electronic one) in my bag. Folks have a tendency to come and ask me how to spell stuff, even after I say spelling isn’t my strong suit.

  174. You know how I remember the diff between stationery and stationary? One of my colleagues once said, “It’s stationery with an ‘e’ – as in ‘e’ stands for envelopes”. I’ve never forgotten it.

  175. Shazam, Phledge!
    I’m with you on the British spellings – although by schooling rather than informed choice! After living for 10 years in North America however, I am finding a real lack of willpower to use my Queen’s English spellings. Programme, specialise, colour – such attention to extra letters and ‘de-zed*-ing’ feels obsolete these days. I had an argument with a boss over the use of ‘tire/tyre’ that had me headdesking for days. I’m such a pedant that I even use “æ” where appropriate, not that I get away with it very often!

    I’d never heard of dyscalculea. What a fascinating brain quirk!

    * To me it’s zed, not zee. LOL

  176. Hijack, but the right moment I hope, given the topic:

    Am having an online tiff and need to know – does the phrase “Tissues will be supplied to catch your drool” conjure up ANYTHING besides excess saliva?

    And does “Catch your Drool” sound like a medieval Olympic sport (Drool sounds like ‘ye olde’ type word?)

  177. Sounds like excess saliva to me, given this context. Drool is almost always saliva, IMO.

  178. Sounds like excess saliva to me, too, but I work in a boys’ high school and I would never use the phrase, because I think *their* minds would go elsewhere.

  179. I’ve only ever heard the term ‘drool’ applied to two things: a copious flow of saliva which escapes the mouth, and very silly babbling speech — the sort I’d myself term ‘drivel.’

  180. Well, I’m another grammar pedant who got 8 right.

    My pet hate are products labelled with “80% less fat”. LESS THAN WHAT?

  181. One of his staff even made a giant red button labeled “MISSILES” to replace my husband’s F7 key, knowing full well he wouldn’t be able to resist pressing a giant red button labeled “MISSILES.”

    There’s a clever solution to many of the world’s major problems somewhere in this statement.

    And, alternatively, to sneak in and label the actual “Missiles” buttons with something like “MATURITY” or “COMMITMENT”.


    Can’t believe I made it through almost 200 comments without seeing my favorites.

    Of course, they’re not something for which I am indepenDANTly orienTAted to look. *shudder*

    (10/10 BTW. Grammer nerdz ruelz FTW! KSJ, I can haz job?)

  182. Oh, I can’t believe I forgot my comment most simultaneously germane to post and site!

    For those who do not already know:

    Playing with words and feeding people. Two of my favorite things.

    For every word you get right, the UN Food Program donates 20 grains of rice. If you play every day to 1000 grains, you can donate approximately a pound of rice a month. (Math nerdz alzo untie!)

  183. Freerice is fun, but don’t use it as a learning tool; their definitions are too short to be accurate, and often I internally fuss at them for ones I think are particularly wrong. I can usually tell which ones they want us to pick, but often disagree that they’re actually equivalent or even particularly close.

    I do like the idea that I’m helping feed people though, that’s brilliant.

    Currently I’m at level 40.

  184. It’s fun to keep open, and find out what the words actually mean. After you’ve made your answer, of course!

    45 now. Rampike, there’s a useful word, colorful, I like colorful.

  185. I love freerice! I sent a link to my labmates, and now we happily play freerice while our research sits untouched…The highest I have gotten is 46, but I usually average in around 41 or 42….Some of the words are really easy to figure out, but other are fit for the effing GRE…

  186. often I internally fuss at them for ones I think are particularly wrong.


    Someone else conducting vigorous internal discourse with the multiple choice. Lovely! We can haz club?

    Oh, nvr mnd – clubz ryte heer.

    Anyone else ever write to the AT Review Board in high school to let them know their examinations were culturally biased? And to what comparative degrees in which categories?

    Ah — to be that sure of oneself now …

    buff, I knew it. Your superb turns of phrase will give you away every time.

    When, of course, you’re not captioning your rugby team or choosing your bath. :D

  187. Catching up on all the language-related fun after being away this weekend…it was really interesting reading about dyscalculia. I am mildly dyslexic with, well, pretty much everything, but have a more severe case of directional dyslexia, which in my case is just what it sounds like. Seriously, don’t ask me to differentiate between right and left on short notice! What I’m trying to say is, I find the ways in which everyone’s brains work a little bit differently, and the ways we find to deal with that, to be completely fascinating.

  188. Could of, would of, and should of make my eyes bleed.

    So does “ect” and spoken mispronunciations of et cetera.

    And confusing i.e. and e.g.

    …I could go on. I won’t, but I could.

  189. Missed number 8, but otherwise got them all. And hey! I’m not a native speaker (English is my third language), so I’m pretty proud of myself!

  190. I got them all right —
    but as with many of those above me, I have done stints as a teacher, an editor and a graduate student.

    It was gratifying to discover how many other people are driven mad by the misuse of the apostrophe and other sloppy spellings — too numerous to mention.

    I have to agree with Medea: it is only by reading voraciously that one develops a fine instinct for appropriate word choices and the way a word should look.

  191. My biggest peeve is when people put “must of” because it sounds like “must’ve”.

  192. “I have the freakish ability to “hear” the differences between homophones.”

    I’ve never had a problem with there/they’re/their because they sound different to my ear. It’s over thar/ They er going out/ It’s theyer car. I think my dad pronounces them that way. Is it a Southern thing or a learning out of books thing?

  193. My favorite misspelling is ‘busses’ for ‘buses’. Because the two words mean entirely different things, and it nearly always offers up a funny mental picture. For example, when I read that “more public busses are needed” I thought about random strangers going around kissing each other in the street.

    I do have to admit, though, that I get called on my spelling all the time by my ESL students. I forget that I’m supposed to be using the British spellings and use the American ones instead, and the kids are all over it. The one I have big problems with is ‘kerb’. It doesn’t look like a real word!

  194. I didn’t read all the comments, but I’m glad to know I’m not the only one out there throwing my hands up at spelling and grammar gaffes.

    I got all of them except number eight because I didn’t know about the trouper v. trooper.

    What completely irritates me is the blatant, rampant apostrophe misuse. It’s almost an epidemic because so many people are using the apostrophe when pluralising words. I’ve even seen it in company reports, e.g., “company’s” when it’s supposed to be “companies.” The people who wrote these reports are BRITS! I though, “Y’all are supposed to have a better education system than us!” OI. I don’t know where it all started, but it’s getting a bit ridiculous if even my friend with a Masters from USC is sticking apostrophes in plurals.

    Also, the “their/they’re/there” and “than/then” mix ups are silly. OH and the “your” v. “you’re!” ARGH. Like one of the other commenters, I hear/pronounce your and you’re differently, which helps differentiate them.

  195. OMG, I got spit all over my screen from number 9. A local cable-access TV station in my city used to run listings of government events that people could attend, and once for an entire week they were running a notice about a pubic hearing. My roommate and I, both total word nerds, could sit and laugh at that one for like half an hour.

  196. I gave up at about 4; I probably would have gotten most of them if I tried. Being a mathematician, though, I didn’t want to deal with the subtlety (especially since I need to get back to work ;-) )

    I just wanted to say, though, that from a mathematician’s perspective, calculators will also bring down civilization! (I sort-of like both, but it’s important to be able to spell or calculate without special tools. When you have pencil and paper, all you’ve got is your brain!)

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