Spelling help & bugs
September 10, 2005 11:41 AM   Subscribe

For a community of intelligent and educated wordsmiths, Mefi still has some common & persistent spelling mistakes. What tips do you have for better spelling of everyday words, and which ones peeve you the most?

To answer my own questions:
at school I was taught that "'friend' ends with '-end'"; I always misspelled (or is that 'misspelt'?) receipt until I put a Post-It on my monitor with RECEipt on it.
O, and the one which peeves me the most is 'tenant' for 'tenet'. Not sure why it does, but it does.
posted by dash_slot- to Writing & Language (74 answers total)
dash, they didn't teach you "I before E except after C?" Covers both your examples above.

I know there's more to it than that but I didn't go to an english school until my last years of high school.
posted by furtive at 11:46 AM on September 10, 2005

Best answer: Come on, furtive! My conscience won't let you deify this rule, as you feign neighborliness with a surfeit of advice. Lift your heinous veil, and rein your application of the weird, sovereign science of spelling.
posted by Kwantsar at 11:54 AM on September 10, 2005 [1 favorite]

I actually remember--and use--an acronym my mom made up in grade school: Emily's Inside, Greg Has Trevyn. Names of family members, you see.

Today, I'm generally able to tell which words I'm likely misspelling, and I just put it in Google for verification or to get the correct spelling. Admittedly, I care about my spelling and take the time to do it right. I can understand if not everyone wants to make the extra effort.

Peeve: "rediculous". I think some people actually think this is how it's spelled. Also, simple things like your/you're that are so commonly used and so easily learned.
posted by trevyn at 11:54 AM on September 10, 2005

Peeves: "facinating", "alot"
posted by rolypolyman at 11:59 AM on September 10, 2005

Well, the MeFi spell-checker catches both "freind" and "reciept" if you use it. The bigger problem is people who don't know they are using the spelling of a completely different word, as peeves trevyn. Many of those go away when people learn the proper use of the apostrophe.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 12:03 PM on September 10, 2005

I've become so used to spell-checkers that I actually don't care about spelling at all when I type. I just get a draft out fast, then go back and right-click (well, control-click on my Mac) on all the squiggly red underlines (of which there are usually many) that there are in the input form in Safari. If I use Firefox, with no red squiggles, this can make me look like a complete idiot, as I forget to correct my many errors (some times: many of them do stand out to me).

I can tell this has had an impact on my spelling. Not a big one, but certain words I don't remember the correct spelling for, and rely on spellcheck. But most of the spelling errors (and other errors) I make online are entirely the result of speed: I don't want to spend a long time typing things and editing them, when they are throw-away posts. So I give a couple of edits, and move on.

So the biggest tip I could give, to spell correctly, is: slow down. Other than that, you really just have to either memorize, or really learn the language. English spelling is very complex, and for every rule, there are exceptions. If you can understand the linguistics of English and its history, though, you can begin to understand why things are spelled the way they are.
posted by teece at 12:12 PM on September 10, 2005

Response by poster: O, furtive, I won't be facist fascist about it (another peeve I've just remembered), but I before E except after C was so derided as rule (thanks Kwantsar) that I found it worthless.

Any way - any other mnemonics, tips or tricks for us pedants and (occasionally fallible) correspondents?
posted by dash_slot- at 12:13 PM on September 10, 2005

The one I see most frequently is "loose" for "lose."

Loose: Not fastened, restrained, not taut, fixed, or rigid.

Lose: To fail to win, misplace something.
posted by Independent Scholarship at 12:13 PM on September 10, 2005

On a side note, the one that pisses me off the most is people writing 'loose', when they meant 'lose':

"I hate it when I loose my keys"

It is teh most annoying.[sic]
posted by gaby at 12:14 PM on September 10, 2005

I automatically discount the opinions of those who:

* mix up "discreet" and "discrete". (I bought a book which included the word "Discrete" in the title. The back cover had a footnote explaining the difference between the two words. I view the fact that this is necessary as a sign of the coming apocalypse.)

* talk about "facists" or "rascists". (Facists discriminate on the basis of facial appearance? Rascists: those who kill grandmothers with axes?)

* call people "rediculous" or "dellusional". (Our own PP has been cured of this at last!)

* say "rouge" when they mean "rogue". (Of course, that happens in Warcraft, not here, but it still irritates me.)

I used to be bothered by "different to" (as opposed to "different from") but I gather that's a regional difference, not incorrect.
posted by ook at 12:17 PM on September 10, 2005

Peeves: 2nd grade spelling like your/you're and their/they're/there.

Tips? Constantly trying to improve - noticing when you make the mistake and, instead of ignoring the spell-checker corrections, paying attention and writing it on a Post-It like you did or otherwise making note of it. Also, condescending "friends" who demean you every time you make a spelling error also make for a good method of remembering your mistakes.
posted by Moral Animal at 12:18 PM on September 10, 2005

loath versus loathe. hypocracy.
posted by Kwantsar at 12:22 PM on September 10, 2005

Dash_slot, thanks for this. The mis-spellings here really piss me off. Like Independent Scholarship, loose/lose is the one that annoys me most, as I am at a loss to understand it. The other ones that annoy me are its/it's, your/you're and they're/their/there which will not, of course, be picked up by a spell checker. Wikipedia has a list of common misspellings.

It's not unique to MeFi, of course. Google accomodation and you will get over 10 million (sic) hits. Supercede will give you well over a million.

If we extend this to language generally, different than, between you and I and if I would have done all are horribly wrong and really annoy me.

I feel much better now for having got all that out. Thanks again dash_slot.
posted by TheRaven at 12:26 PM on September 10, 2005

Furtive, I was taught the rule was "I before E, except after C and in words sounding like 'A' such as neighbour." That pretty much makes the rule work, eh?
posted by girlpublisher at 12:28 PM on September 10, 2005

I have found that it's sometimes easier for a person who is a fairly decent speller - but makes occasional mistakes - to study what is wrong and concentrate on common errors. An excellent book is The Right Word by Jan Venolia. There are others that are actually more popular and better sellers, but I found this little book from Ten Speed Press to be a superb primer on common spelling and usage errors (affect vs effect -- fewer vs less -- reign vs rein -- libel vs slander -- etc.).......
posted by Independent Scholarship at 12:30 PM on September 10, 2005

Furtive, I was taught the rule was "I before E, except after C and in words sounding like 'A' such as neighbour." That pretty much makes the rule work, eh?
The full mnemonic is:

I before E
Except after C
Or when sounded like A
As in 'neighbor' and 'weigh'.
posted by Miko at 12:40 PM on September 10, 2005

affect / effect. One of our customers almost always uses "affect" when they should be using "effect" - it drives me batshit insane because any fixed typos have to get tracked back to the customer for approval, stalling their entire order.
posted by nathan_teske at 12:47 PM on September 10, 2005

The only one that really bugs me that nobody has mentioned yet is 'definatly'. That bugs the crap out of me.
posted by number9dream at 12:48 PM on September 10, 2005

Amazing that no one has yet commented on the overwhelming misuse of apostrophes when forming non-possessive plurals (The boy's were playing). Or the confusion over "its" and it's".
posted by carterk at 12:49 PM on September 10, 2005

I've seen "here, here" on MeFi far too much.

I have far too many to list here, alas.
posted by madman at 1:01 PM on September 10, 2005

For me, it's seperate (sic). To reinforce the "ar" spelling, I was advised in grade school to see that the parts are separated in that word, and to note that it is different from desperate.
posted by Cranberry at 1:15 PM on September 10, 2005

Since the evacuation of New Orleans, I've been peeved about "Marshall Law."
posted by mbrubeck at 1:20 PM on September 10, 2005

Apostrophe catastrophes of any sort are my biggest pet peeve, but loose/lose, definately, seperate, rediculous, and wierd are also awful. It hurts me to write that sentence and leave those words uncorrected.

As for means of combating bad spelling, I find that the best answer is to read. Books and good newspapers or magazines both work. When I spend too much time writing on a computer or reading stuff online, my ability to spell goes down - I still recognize misspellings, but I've become so acclimated to the bad spelling rampant online and to automated error correction that it's harder to figure out what the rigth spelling is. Reading offline seems to recharge my ability to remember the right spelling. Turning off auto-correct in my word processor would probably also help, now that I think about it.
posted by ubersturm at 1:28 PM on September 10, 2005


There are a *ton* I can't think of now, but you guys pegged a lot of them.

Oh, oh!



I'm all about language being organic and evolving, but there's a line between exciting language memes and just plain stupid.
posted by Lockeownzj00 at 1:29 PM on September 10, 2005

Eye halve a spelling chequer,
It came with my pee, see;
It plane lea marques four my revue
Miss steaks eye Cannes knot sea.

Eye strike a key oar type align,
An weight four it two say,
Weather eye am write oar wrong--
It chose me strait aweigh.

A soon as a mist ache is maid
It nose bee fore two long,
And eye can put the err or write
Its rare lea ever wrong.

Sew eye have run this poem awl threw it
Ewe must bee please two, no?
Its let her perfect awl the weigh;
My chequer tolled me sew.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 1:33 PM on September 10, 2005

Oh, that's what I forgot things like: "dyeing/dieing (for death)," "lyeing/lieing..."

*destroys the planet*
posted by Lockeownzj00 at 1:33 PM on September 10, 2005

Best answer: I almost like supposably. It implies something that is able to be supposed. Supposably, most urban legends really happened to a friend of a friend.

Most people won't get it.

I was reading and writing at a very early age, so this may not work for everyone, but I actually made looking up words I didn't know a kind of game. It still works, especially on Wikipedia, where it can spark an hour's browse. But by looking it up, it transcends the symbology of the language on the page and becomes a thing. That seems to help fix it in my brain. (This is sort of a variation of the classical knowledge of Latin, Greek, French and German that helps English speakers understand why words are formed the way they are.)

Anyway, here's a good list of the 100 most mis-spelled English words. My personal peeve, probably, is principal/principle, with accidently a close second. The other problem is grammar -- even if you spell correctly you have to put the words in the right order. I really enjoy Strunk & White for this, and I defend its rigidity as good advice for effective writing. You should at least be familiar with it.

Hmm, there was a great list of commonly misused/spelled English words that was popular on MeFi back in the day, but I can't find it now. Not this one. No, wait, Common Errors in English. Wow, a book and a calendar now.
posted by dhartung at 1:55 PM on September 10, 2005

One that I have just started noticing recently is people using "there's" to refer to a plural amount of something. Like "there's five guys over there." I see and hear this all the time now, even from people who should certainly know better.
posted by Who_Am_I at 2:21 PM on September 10, 2005

I'm noticing more and more instances of "your" being mistakenly used instead of "you're," and it's driving me batty. My other giant pet peeve is possessives as plurals (as carterk pointed out). I can understand misspellings, but forming plurals is one of the most basic exercises in language and I have little tolerance for it being done incorrectly. I notice these mistakes a lot when people are forming plurals of acronyms, as in "VCR's" instead of "VCRs."
posted by MegoSteve at 2:33 PM on September 10, 2005

phase/faze. When you take something in stride, it doesn't faze you. The word "phase" has no business being anywhere near that sentence.
posted by kindall at 2:38 PM on September 10, 2005 [1 favorite]

It's a damn poor mind that can only think of one way to spell a word.

-- Andrew Jackson
posted by phhht at 2:53 PM on September 10, 2005

Reading misspelled words wrecks my mind.
I think reading this thread has decreased my spelling ability several letter graders.

So a tip for spelling better for me, is to not read stuff thats spelled wrong.
posted by Iax at 3:00 PM on September 10, 2005

I've seen a lot of my peeves mentioned already, but not these two:

Why do so many people write, "I have some advise for you"? Yaaagh!

This one is especially common. I don't notice it much here on MeFi, but I can't count the number of people online I've seen talk about their web sight.
posted by MsMolly at 3:16 PM on September 10, 2005

What gets my goat is not mispelled words as much as it is common phrases that the speaker/typer has never actually seen written or heard said (apparently). This usually involves replacing a word or string of words with a "soundalike" that doesn't actually make sense. Of course, the writer only knows what the phrase means, not what the string of words actually means, so it's all the same to them. Let me see if I can think of an example (I used to keep a list but I no longer do). This one is kind of weak but it'll give you an idea: "for all intensive purposes" in place of "for all intents and purposes".

I think things like the above, mistakes with apostrophes, mistakes with soundalike words (loose/lose, here/hear, sight/site/cite (websight, ugh)) come from us having an increasingly verbal culture, where the exposure to and usage of words comes primarily from radio, television or conversation than it does from magazines, newspapers or books. An exception of this is that a lot of youngsters spend a lot of time online, but "the internet" is not as well edited as most newspapers, magazines, or books, so it tends to reinforce (and even introduce) improper usage.

Oh, and I saw "loose" instead of "lose" on a piece of professional copy this week, don't remember where. It was involving how to "loose" weight.
posted by RustyBrooks at 3:16 PM on September 10, 2005

Wow, I have some grammar doozies in my rant. Blame it on just waking up for a nap, I will.
posted by RustyBrooks at 3:18 PM on September 10, 2005

Megosteve mentions how often people use apostrophes when they intend to make plural a Acronym.

1) The NYT does this on purpose- it's in their style guide. !

2) I think this practice is wildly misguided and in itself has led to further misunderstanding of the purpose of apostrophes.
posted by carterk at 3:27 PM on September 10, 2005

Oops, that's 'an Acronym'.
posted by carterk at 3:28 PM on September 10, 2005

Very Special MeFi Peeve: sentance/sentence.
posted by AwkwardPause at 3:37 PM on September 10, 2005

People use "prolly" when they have a deep seated need for an ass kicking.
posted by dreamsign at 3:46 PM on September 10, 2005


The misuse of those three make my teeth ache.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:02 PM on September 10, 2005

My personal pet peeve? "Faze" vs. "phase". Every time I read a sentence like "my boss told me not to continue with the project, but that didn't phase me", it sets my teeth on edge.
posted by Johnny Assay at 4:02 PM on September 10, 2005

The improper use of "then" and "than".
The elephant is bigger "than" the mouse.
I finished the book; "then" I turned off the lamp.
posted by tcy at 4:16 PM on September 10, 2005

posted by Thorzdad at 4:17 PM on September 10, 2005

Johnny Assay, I've had that one corrected from right to wrong by english teachers before. Good one.
posted by devilsbrigade at 4:23 PM on September 10, 2005

allude vs elude
atheist vs athiest
then vs than

Lately I've been bothered by "try and" rather than "try to" ("I'm going to try and do this.") but it seems so pervasive that I'll just research it for one of my linguistics courses this year rather than get all up in arms about it. Maybe it means something slightly different.
posted by heatherann at 5:01 PM on September 10, 2005

Every time I see everytime (one word), I want to pull my hair out. Other peeves include laxadaisical for lackadaisical, amperstamp for ampersand, and irregardless for regardless.
posted by smich at 5:03 PM on September 10, 2005

ist nto msispeleing, i juts cnat tpye ...

seriously, i think people expect too much from informal meeting places such as webboards
posted by pyramid termite at 5:08 PM on September 10, 2005

I find reading a lot helps keep spelling sound. I'm also one of those fortunate people for whom spelling came very easily and naturally. I'm sort of a reverse dyslexic. I see a word; I remember how it looks. There are a small number of words whose spelling gives me pause but I can usually see they're wrong immediately if I write them out incorrectly.

Common mistakes that drive me mad? A big second for "loose" instead of "lose". That one seems to be an almost exclusively American error and I simply don't understand it. Also "seperate", and the truly mind-boggling "speek". Also "peak" instead of "peek".

I find grammatical errors bother me more than spelling mistakes, actually. "Try and" can send me into raging apoplexy. I shall never get used to hearing Americans say "different than", no matter how long I live here. "Different FROM, similar TO, other THAN." We had that absolutely rammed into us at school and hearing "different than" is like hearing nails on a blackboard, for me.

God, I could go on and on and I usually do. But I won't.
posted by Decani at 7:16 PM on September 10, 2005

ALSO! I hate it when people use "criteria" for a single CRITERION, or "phenomena" for a PHENOMENON. Those are distressingly and inexcusably common. You even hear newsreaders do it.
posted by Decani at 7:18 PM on September 10, 2005

Just reading this thread gets my goat up.

Possible irritants:
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 7:22 PM on September 10, 2005

Oh, and for all intensive purposes, these should go on that list, too:

posted by Civil_Disobedient at 7:27 PM on September 10, 2005

Bad spelling? That's a mute point. [peeve]
posted by pmbuko at 7:58 PM on September 10, 2005

Peeve: "would of," "could of" and "should of" for "would've," "could've" and "should've." I have no problem with "woulda," "coulda" and "shoulda" though.

Tip: only assholes and English teachers correct other people's spelling, no matter how egregious.
posted by zanni at 8:40 PM on September 10, 2005

"marshall law"

I attribute a lot of incorrectly used but correctly spelled errors to spellcheck. I've seen a lot of these in professionally published books.

My #1 general pet peeve is people using "big words" wrong in a misguided attempt to sound important, formal, modest, or whatever. The #1 most common example is "myself," which is used incorrectly almost 100% of the time. (It's a reflexive pronoun, so "I woke up this morning and got myself a beer," is OK. Anything where "I" is not the subject of the sentence is wrong.)

Every time I read a sentence like 'my boss told me not to continue with the project, but that didn't phase me,' it sets my teeth on edge.

That be OK on Star Trek, though.
posted by kirkaracha at 9:53 PM on September 10, 2005

Of late I've seen reign used for rein. Reign in, give free reign. A special case of RustyBrooks' complaint. Won't anyone think of the horses???

I learned long ago to read "it's" as "it is", which means I never make that mistake. Unfortunately, it also means I never fail to notice, and loathe, its being made by others. Write "her's" and "hi's" why don't you.

For w-g d:
Ladle Rat Rotten Hut
Wants pawn term dare worsted ladle gull hoe lift wetter murder inner ladle cordage honor itch offer lodge, dock, florist. Disk ladle gull orphan worry Putty ladle rat cluck wetter ladle rat hut, an fur disk raisin pimple colder Ladle Rat Rotten Hut.

Wan moaning Ladle Rat Rotten Hut's murder colder inset.

"Ladle Rat Rotten Hut, heresy ladle basking winsome burden barter an shirker cockles. Tick disk ladle basking tutor cordage offer groin-murder hoe lifts honor udder site offer florist. Shaker lake! Dun stopper laundry wrote! Dun stopper peck floors! Dun daily-doily inner florist, an yonder nor sorghum-stenches, dun stopper torque wet strainers!"

"Hoe-cake, murder," resplendent Ladle Rat Rotten Hut, an tickle ladle basking an stuttered oft.
posted by Aknaton at 10:45 PM on September 10, 2005

"could care less" instead of "couldn't care less"
posted by madman at 11:36 PM on September 10, 2005

It's "definately" [grr] good to hear that I'm not the only one "loosing" [grr] patience with these basic errors.

You know, my university's newspaper had, I'm ashamed to say, an article on the "affects" of Hurricane Katrina a couple of days ago. It was the main front page article, and the error was in the headline. Booooooo. Of course, the quality of our paper is not, in our opinion, one of VT's strong points. What's worse is that I've seen this kind of error (although less glaring) in articles from places like the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Associated Press. If they can't produce well-formed English, who will?
posted by musicinmybrain at 11:41 PM on September 10, 2005

necessary: one collar, two sleeves
posted by Kevin1911 at 12:44 AM on September 11, 2005

What might be nice is a Firefox extension that automatically corrects the worst spelling mistakes in a page.

My hope would be that it has "rediculous" in it.
posted by ralawrence at 1:19 AM on September 11, 2005

When we were about 8 years old, our teacher taught us this mnemonic:


Not that 'beautiful' is particularly difficult to spell.
posted by PurpleJack at 3:39 AM on September 11, 2005

Tip: only assholes and English teachers correct other people's spelling

Well, I guess that makes me an asshole. Personally I would appreciate people correcting my spelling errors - or my errors in any other area. I have no desire to remain an ignoramus; I like to learn and improve. Still, the issue never arises since I don't make spelling mistakes. Only typos. :-)

Oh yeah, somebody mentioned the "flaunt/flout, infer/imply" confusions. Those drive me mad too.
posted by Decani at 6:42 AM on September 11, 2005 [1 favorite]

The ones I think of keep having to do with misquoting a phrase that the author's never seen written (or at least not often enough), as RustyBrooks said. The only way to deal with these is to use them ironically. It's tricky to say "Your welcome" out loud but it can be done.

"Running a gauntlet" bugs me. Gauntlets are perfectly nice things... to wear on your hands. Just because gantlet is an unfamiliar word doesn't mean you get to stick a u in it.

If I knew the appropriate chat board I'd ask creative people to come up with false examples of mistakes like this, things noone actually says, no matter how illiterate.
posted by Aknaton at 8:11 AM on September 11, 2005

The other day, I glanced at the cover of a local beach town's newspaper. The main headline put an apostrophe in "gets". As in, "X Get's Y". Philistines.
posted by jbrjake at 8:12 AM on September 11, 2005

Response by poster: Running a gantlet

Well, I never knew that.

There's been a lot of replies not strictly to do with spelling - poor grammar, garbled phraseology, etc - but's all been good, so thanks again to all contributors.
posted by dash_slot- at 9:57 AM on September 11, 2005

Damn! I didn't know it was "running the gantlet" either! And I'm glad someone has educated me about it!
posted by Decani at 10:10 AM on September 11, 2005

There's been a lot of replies...

Should be There have (There've) been many replies. Makes sense if you reverse it: Many replies have been there. You would never say: "Many replies has been there."

A lot of sugar. A lot of trouble. Many trees. Many problems. Many replies. If the plural ends in "s" use "many". If not, use "a lot of" or "much".

MeFi bugs: Never mind and no one, like all right, are always two words.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 11:04 AM on September 11, 2005

Damn! I didn't know it was "running the gantlet" either! And I'm glad someone has educated me about it!

Your welcome!
posted by Aknaton at 11:22 AM on September 11, 2005

Damn! I didn't know it was "running the gantlet" either!

Um, guys, if everybody thinks it's "running the gauntlet," it is "running the gauntlet." That's how language works. The fact that people wrote "running the gantlet" a hundred years ago is as irrelevant as the fact they used "agenda" as a plural.

You did know "agenda" is theoretically a plural, right?
posted by languagehat at 1:48 PM on September 11, 2005

My Driver's Ed teacher in high school was convinced that "the right of way" was actually "the right away," and phrased it so on tests, as in: When four cars arrive at a four-way stop at the same time, which one has the Right Away? Drove me nuts, no pun intended.
posted by ruddhist at 2:46 PM on September 11, 2005

Response by poster: weapons-grade pandemonium :
There's been a lot of replies...

Should be There have (There've) been many replies. Makes sense if you reverse it: Many replies have been there. You would never say: "Many replies has been there."

Thanks - you're right. I was writing < ahem> colloquially - as indeed we speak in this island. My bad.
posted by dash_slot- at 3:09 PM on September 11, 2005

Um, guys, if everybody thinks it's "running the gauntlet," it is "running the gauntlet."

Maybe. That doesn't make it right, or a good thing. I have little patience with the "10 million flies can't be wrong" approach to language. Language evolves, sure, but let it evolve rationally, please. "Running the gauntlet" simply doesn't make sense, when you analyse it.

I will NEVER accept the vile mutation of the meaning of "momentarily", for example. And I don't care how many people do.
posted by Decani at 5:59 PM on September 11, 2005

languagehat, I'm not sure why you're picking on me in particular. Might you not equally have written

"Mefi still has some common & persistent spelling mistakes
If they're persistent, then they're not mistakes."

I'm afraid I count your comment as exactly the type that are strongly discouraged in AskMe -- passing judgment on the thrust of the original question. (E.g. "Which SUV should I buy?" "Don't buy an SUV, you monster!")

C'mon... admit it... aren't there any common misspellings that look ugly to you? Contribute!
posted by Aknaton at 12:04 AM on September 12, 2005

posted by DevilsAdvocate at 11:33 AM on September 13, 2005

Oh good! I was wondering how long it'd e before the prescriptivist vs descriptivist debate started!

*settles in with popcorn*
posted by ook at 2:38 PM on September 16, 2005

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