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Spell Check

An online company’s research department has revealed the top misspelled word in each state, based on search-engine queries.

In Iowa and Kentucky the chief troublemaker is maintenance. Arkansas and Utah apparently can’t spell leprechaun—but why would Arkansas and Utah want to? For irony aficionados: drought-plagued California’s top misspelled word is desert. Florida struggles with tomorrow (in more ways than one). Michigan and Oklahoma wonder how to spell gray. We wonder how to misspell it—both gray and grey are acceptable, and it’s hard to imagine any other option. Mississippi has trouble with sergeant, but in all fairness, many sergeants can’t spell Mississippi either. Oh, and Alaska can’t spell Hawaii.

Here is another of our spelling drills. In keeping with our policy, these are words that you hear all the time. You’ll find the answers directly below.

1. Her ___ is her mother’s best friend.

A) step father
B) steppfather
C) step-father
D) stepfather

2. The executives sent a letter of ___ to their best agent.

A) congrachulations
B) congradulations
C) congratulations
D) congrajulations

3. He was acting in ___ to his conscience.

A) obediance
B) obedience
C) obediense
D) obedianse

4. The changing of the seasons is a natural ___.

A) occurence
B) occurance
C) ocurrance
D) occurrence

5. The man wore a suit and had ___ just come from work.

A) evidently
B) evadentally
C) evadently
D) evidentally

6. Tests in the ___ have so far been encouraging.

A) labratory
B) laboratory
C) labrotory
D) laborotory

7. Shonda read the class an ___ from her new play.

A) excerpt
B) excerp
C) excert
D) exerpt

8. The movie was called a ___ by the critics.

A) debokle
B) dibacle
C) debacle
D) dibakle

9. Blane transformed the firm into a sleek ___ that dominated the market.

A) juggernot
B) jugernaut
C) juggernat
D) juggernaut

10. I think I’ll drive to ___ tomorrow.

A) Massachusets
B) Masachusetts
C) Massachusetts
D) Masachusets

 

ANSWERS

1: D) stepfather

2: C) congratulations

3: B) obedience

4: D) occurrence

5: A) evidently

6: B) laboratory

7: A) excerpt

8: C) debacle

9: D) juggernaut

10: C) Massachusetts

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Posted on Wednesday, July 13, 2016, at 7:36 pm


Media Watch

Here is another set of recent flubs and fumbles from usually dependable journalists.

• “Yet my relationship with the game was simple and uncomplicated.”

How did this one get by the editors? One of those two adjectives has to go.

• “He is accused of fleeing to London in March while owing more than $1 billion dollars to Indian banks.”

The dollar sign means “dollars,” so “$1 billion dollars” is as redundant as “simple and uncomplicated.”

• “The vessels have the capacity to carry about 2½ times the number of containers than held by ships now using the canal.

Why would anyone put than in that sentence?

• “The outpouring of anger and concern show that California wants vital and vigilant coastal protections.”

The subject is the singular noun “outpouring,” so the verb should be shows.

• “To get in, I waded through a throng of protesters gathered around the entrance … A few protestors got close enough to snap pictures.”

The Associated Press Stylebook and many dictionaries accept only protester. Other dictionaries list protestor as an alternative spelling. But no authority alive recommends spelling the word both ways in the same paragraph.

• “It is an important fact ignored—or maybe unknown—to the candidate.”

The writer wanted to say that the “important fact” was either ignored by the candidate or unknown to the candidate. Here’s how to make it work with the dashes: It is an important fact ignored by—or maybe unknown to—the candidate.

• “The outcome is a major win for public employee unions, who would be weakened if members didn’t pay for representation.”

The word after “unions” should be which, not who. Despite being made up of people, a union is a thing. Writers should limit their use of who to humans.

• “Born in Brooklyn in 1922, stage fright steered Mr. Bauersfeld away from Hollywood.”

The dangler is alive and thriving in the twenty-first century. Did you spot it? To sticklers and other careful readers, this sentence is sheer nonsense: it states with a straight face that stage fright was born in Brooklyn in 1922. We could write  Stage fright steered Mr. Bauersfeld, who was born in Brooklyn in 1922, away from Hollywood. But now the reader wonders what being born in Brooklyn in 1922 has to do with stage fright and avoiding Hollywood. Year and place of birth are irrelevant here. The writer was trying to cram too much into one sentence.

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Posted on Wednesday, May 11, 2016, at 7:46 am


When Branding Undermines Spelling

• Spring is in the air, which means that in America, major-league baseball is on the air. In San Francisco, two members of the hometown Giants’ broadcast team are former major-leaguers Mike Krukow (pronounced CREW-ko) and Duane Kuiper (KY-per). The team’s publicity department refers to these popular announcers as “Kruk” and “Kuip,” which we are meant to pronounce “cruke” and “kipe.” But baseball greenhorns see “Kruk” and “Kuip” and say “cruck” and “quip.”

• In Hollywood, good things have started to happen for a talented young entertainer called King Bach, who got his start by making YouTube videos.

Most readers over thirty will look at the name and pronounce it “King Bock.” But once you learn that the young man’s real name is Andrew Bachelor, you realize that “Bach” is supposed to rhyme with match.

Why the haywire spelling of celebrity nicknames nowadays?

The culprit is “branding,” which a business website defines as “the process involved in creating a unique name and image for a product in the consumers’ mind.” By the way, note the cynicism lurking in that phrase “consumers’ mind”—shouldn’t it be “minds”? Evidently, marketing departments view the public as little more than a pliable homogeneous organism.

Why can’t Krukow and Kuiper be “Kruke” and “Kipe”? And why doesn’t Andrew Bachelor call himself “King Batch”? Apparently, a commandment of branding is that you may lop letters off if it makes the moniker more catchy, but you must not alter the spelling to make the pronunciation more reader-friendly, because that would taint the brand and perplex the pliable homogeneous organism.

Subverting long-established conventions of phonetic spelling with sobriquets like “King Bach” and “Kruk” and “Kuip” may irk some of us, but these corporate misspelling tactics mirror the popular culture’s penchant for glib but irrational abbreviations. Consider the mass acceptance of “mic,” which has been driving word nerds batty for years.

“Mic” is a bogus abbreviation of microphone. (Chances are, your neighborhood pub has a regular “open mic” night on its calendar.) But for decades before the intrusion of “mic,” the word was mike: “Ike is good on a mike” went a line from a popular early-1950s jingle about presidential candidate Dwight D. Eisenhower.

There is also a verb to mike, meaning “to place a microphone near.” But if you buy into “mic,” what would the past tense of “to mic” be? Was the speaker micd? mic’d? miced?

A bicycle is a bike, not a “bic.” So let’s get over this dopey notion that a microphone is a “mic.”

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Posted on Monday, April 4, 2016, at 6:32 pm


Spell Well, and Excel

Take care that you never spell a word wrong. Always before you write a word, consider how it is spelled, and, if you do not remember, turn to a dictionary. It produces great praise to a lady to spell well.
—Thomas Jefferson to his daughter

If there are spelling and grammatical errors, assume that the same level of attention to detail probably went into the gathering and reporting of the “facts” given on the site.
—Randolph Hock, The Extreme Searcher’s Internet Handbook

Don’t write naughty words on walls if you can’t spell.
—from the song “Be Prepared,” by Tom Lehrer

Here is another of our spelling drills. In keeping with our policy, these are words that you hear all the time. You’ll find the answers directly below.

1. They specialize in ___ with a focus on fashion and quality.

A) aparrel
B) apparrel
C) apparel
D) aparell

2. Listen to the ___ of the falling rain.

A) rythum
B) rhythum
C) rhythm
D) ryhthm

3. This ___ is important to help us qualify your needs.

A) questionnaire
B) questionaire
C) questionnair
D) questionair

4. “Smooth ___, Hoover!”

A) manuver
B) manuever
C) maneuvor
D) maneuver

5. The seller retains ownership until the final ___ is paid.

A) instalment
B) installment
C) installmint
D) instahlment

6. Ancient Troy was captured by an elaborate ___.

A) stratagim
B) strategim
C) strategem
D) stratagem

7. Jerry’s ___ behavior embarrassed the ambassador.

A) asinine
B) assinine
C) asanine
D) asinyne

8. I walked a mile in my ___.

A) mocasins
B) moccasins
C) mocassins
D) moccassins

9. Trace your ___ to learn more about your family.

A) geneolagy
B) geneolagey
C) geneology
D) genealogy

10. That shy student from Bogotá, ___, became her husband.

A) Collumbia
B) Colambia
C) Colombia
D) Columbia

ANSWERS

1: C) apparel

2: C) rhythm

3: A) questionnaire

4: D) maneuver

5: B) installment

6: D) stratagem

7: A) asinine

8: B) moccasins

9: D) genealogy

10: C) Colombia

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Posted on Tuesday, March 22, 2016, at 10:38 am


You Lost Me After “Feb”

Feb-yoo-ary. Febber-ary. Feb-wary. Can’t anyone around here say “feb-roo-ary”?

It’s time to revisit dissimilation, the labored linguistic theory that purports to explain why so many of us don’t say February’s two r’s. The online American Heritage dictionary has the following usage note at “February”: “The loss of the first r in this pronunciation can be accounted for by the phonological process known as dissimilation, by which similar sounds in a word tend to become less similar.”

Translation: the second r in February makes people mispronounce the first r.

My first reaction was that some intellectuals with too much time on their hands had come up with a fancy term for slovenly speech. Isn’t dissimilation merely an erudite synonym for tongue-twister? I’m not quite ready to buy all this “phonological process” business; the simple truth is that people generally are hurried speakers, and saying words like February takes a little extra care.

Here are some other hard-to-enunciate dissimilation words:

Asterisk  The second s gets dropped, and we are left with the icky “aster-ick.”

Candidate  People say the first two syllables as if they were saying “Canada.”

Hierarchy  You often hear “high-arky,” with the er slurred. We should aim “higher.”

Prerogative  I bet most people think this word is spelled “perogative,” because that’s typically what you hear. Only careful speakers say the first r: pre-rahg-ative.

Minutiae  Here’s a word no one says right. The traditional pronunciation, believe it or not, is min-OO-she-ee or min-YOO-she-ee. Good luck with that. I’ve never heard anything but “min-oo-sha,” because “sha” is a whole lot easier than saying two long-e syllables, one right after the other

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I’ve put in enough time on this odd little topic to observe that dissimilation has a flip side. I’m calling it “impulsive echoing”: the tendency to irrationally add similar sounds within words, despite their spelling. Check these out:

Ouija board  If you are American, either you or someone you know says “wee-jee.” The standard pronunciation is WEE-ja. How does ja become “jee” unless impulsive echoing is real?

Cummerbund  Look at that spelling and then tell me why so many speakers add a phantom b: “cumber-bund.”

Pundit  I’ve heard seasoned public figures—hello, Hillary Clinton—say “pundint.”

Whirlwind  I’ve also heard veteran TV journalists—hello, Wolf Blitzer—say “world wind.”

Sherbet  That’s how you spell it, all right. What happens when the people who add a second r and say “sher-bert” meet the people who drop the first r in February?

—Tom Stern

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Posted on Wednesday, February 3, 2016, at 11:26 am