Why do people misspell 'lose' as 'loose'?
December 30, 2003 4:00 PM   Subscribe

Why do people misspell 'lose' as 'loose'? I was looking at this old entry at waxy. All the info on the web seems to be of the 'haha, look how stupid people are' variety but I haven't found anything that tries to explain these mistakes away. Is it phonetics, usage, words that are an exception to a rule?
posted by vacapinta to Writing & Language (19 answers total)
I don't know why they do it, but here is an example of how that mistake can get past several people to make it to the UI of [damn, I can't remember what software this is from; maybe Renamer?]:

So if I quit now, I will grant freedom from confinement to all the changes I have made? Shit!
posted by yalestar at 4:15 PM on December 30, 2003

Possibly because the "o" in lose is phonetically very close to the "oo" in loose? People who do this are likely to be writing and spelling based on pronounciation. "Speach" is an example of a similar phenomenon.
posted by majick at 4:39 PM on December 30, 2003

What majick said.
posted by callmejay at 4:43 PM on December 30, 2003

I don't make this mistake myself, but IMHO, it's because of the "oo". Many other common words contain an "oo" that's pronounced in a similar way to the single "o" in "lose": "tooth", "roof", "proof", etc. If you think about it in terms of these other common words, "loose" looks as if it should be pronounced like "lose".

I like this theory partly because it also suggests a reason why very few people make the opposite mistake (it seems to me that most people who do this spell both "lose" and "loose" as "loose", rather than simply transposing them). It's because "lose" doesn't look like it ought to be pronounced as "loose" is. The word looks wrong when people write "loose" as "lose", so they correct it.
posted by vorfeed at 4:47 PM on December 30, 2003

It's because people who do that are complete idiots.
posted by ac at 4:52 PM on December 30, 2003

Because they don't care. And yet, others of us still laugh at them.
posted by rushmc at 5:07 PM on December 30, 2003

I am very aware of the differences between "to", "too" and "two". I also understand the difference between "There", "their" and "they're". To say nothing of "its" and "it's".

I still constantly find myself mistyping one when if I'd thought about it I'd use the other. Sometimes I catch them. Other times, I hit send and only realize my mistake later.

I think the part of my brain that here's hears words is connected to the part of my brain that writes words. I do hear the words in my head rather than the individual letters as I type them out.

For others though, it's probably that they don't know or don't care.
posted by willnot at 5:21 PM on December 30, 2003

I think people get confused because "choose" is pronounced like "lose" while "chose" isn't.
posted by TimeFactor at 5:29 PM on December 30, 2003

Loosing is ten times worse.
posted by machaus at 5:43 PM on December 30, 2003

It's somewhat understandable that someone might sneak in an extra letter, but I wonder about the people that replace, for example, won with one.
posted by gyc at 6:07 PM on December 30, 2003

Because spell checkers often miss this error.

Catching it would require the spellchecker have some AI to understand what you are talking about.
posted by bobo123 at 6:08 PM on December 30, 2003

It's what majick said. I'm a good speller mainly because my memory is very visual, I picture the words as I write them. Phonetic spellers tend to write what they hear in their minds, often substituting homynyms.

Such people with aurally high-functioning memories, however, tend to be better at remembering what people said, which is a weakness of mine.
posted by planetkyoto at 6:38 PM on December 30, 2003

It's what majick said. I'm a good speller mainly because my memory is very visual

That's good. I didn't phrase the question so well but I was having trouble understanding how, even if you accidentally typed out 'loose', it would still look ok after looking it over. Or, as yalestar pointed out above, it could look ok to so many people.

I guess I am very visual too and so that makes sense.
posted by vacapinta at 6:54 PM on December 30, 2003

Also, the program author does not necessarily speak English as a first language.
posted by five fresh fish at 7:21 PM on December 30, 2003

My idea: the deviant "loose" is in the rise thanks to h8x00r-speak and AIM. A new generation is posting, and they saw "l00ser I ownz j00!" before they were taught spelling.
posted by crunchburger at 7:46 PM on December 30, 2003

I don't have a solid answer, but judging from the quality of postings I see in some online forums, I suspect that many people simply don't have a good command of their own language.

I see formations like "long road to hoe" or "tow the line" and think "you don't know what you are saying." I knew one guy who seriously thought "especially" was pronounced "eckspecially". Loose/lose may, in some cases, spring from a similarly vague understanding of English.
posted by adamrice at 9:29 PM on December 30, 2003

adamrice, I'm not so sure the evidence you see is too far off from what I'm talking about. Constructions like "tow the line" and "eckspecially" are probably derived entirely from spoken habit. I know at least one person who says "eckspecially" and a enough people who don't seem to know (or care) about the toe/tow difference that I started to question my own correctness on the matter.

I suspect there are many cases where spoken language is being transliterated poorly into written language. I'm guilty of the opposite at times: a few items in my vocabulary were learned by reading and I've had a couple of embarassing moments where my presumed pronounciation was in fact wrong. I didn't know the proper way to say "Reuters" for many years!
posted by majick at 11:31 PM on December 30, 2003

It's because "loo" is pronounced like the lo in lose, while "lo" is not. Lose looks like it rhymes with hose. Lose and loose should probably be looze and loose if English made any sense.
posted by Nothing at 11:38 PM on December 30, 2003

I suspect there are many cases where spoken language is being transliterated poorly into written language.

I think that, and things related to it, are key. The thing that gets left out of these questions is the lack of some magical all-shaping English Language Deity. People learn language from each other, largely in a subconcious mode that is pretty amazing but prone to errors.

It's silly that people says "tow the line," but it's not like God dispenses etymology. A person hears the phrase, they remember it and try to construct some meaning for it form context. "Tow the line" is just as valid as "toe the line" if you don't have a specific reason to know the whole story, and both images work reasonably well where the phrase is used.

Considering that, try and give "lose" any reason (other than rote memorization based on observation of others, who may also make the same mistake, and considering all the phonetic trickery that people have already mentioned) to be inherently correct. It's correct only because we have a history of using it that way, and a lot of people aren't exposed to or take no interest in that history. Sad for word nerds, but hardly surprising, and it doesn't mean the errer is stupid; it only means they don't care about or haven't gotten around to addressing some specific part of written language usage.
posted by cortex at 8:59 AM on December 31, 2003

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