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Spell Check Overreach

My spell check has been drinking again. It just told me “déjà vu” should be “deejay.”

Everyone who uses Word software probably has some form of spell check. Mine — I call him “SC” — also makes occasionally helpful (but often just surreal) suggestions about grammar and punctuation. To be fair, SC sometimes saves me from my own carelessness. But all in all, I think I’d rather get dating tips from a praying mantis.

For less-experienced writers, spell check is a mushroom in the woods: be careful what you swallow. I once typed “public enemies” and SC wanted “enemy’s.” Nouns ending in y are tricky enough without bogus advice from a clueless tool. It pains me to think of all the insecure people who follow blindly.

SC is no panacea to grammar-challenged Americans. He changed “how is it possible” to “how it possible is,” and “all of the above” became “the entire above.”

The word snarky, referring to a snide attitude, has been in popular usage for a long time. But no one told SC, who thinks my hand slipped while I was trying to type “snaky” or “snarly.” Come to think of it, those two words pretty much sum up snarky. But that’s beside the point.

Another familiar term is “A-lister”: someone who’s show-business royalty. SC doesn’t get out much, so he thinks I must mean “lifter” or “luster” or “blister” — or even “leister,” which is a three-pronged fishing spear. That’s no way to describe Angelina Jolie!

And it’s not just trendy words that SC botches. The French word chez, referring to home or headquarters, has been prevalent in English usage since the early 18th century. So why does SC think I mean either a revolutionary (“Che”), a singer (“Cher”) or some bloke named “Chet”?

For several decades, Luddite has been a handy word for someone who rejects or is confounded by modern technology: “I’m such a Luddite I can’t program my DVR.” You’d think SC could do better than “landsite” or “audited.”

Clearly, at this point, spell check is too erratic. The irony is that it’s least valuable to those who need it most.

(This tip was contributed by veteran copy editor Tom Stern.)

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Posted on Tuesday, September 25, 2012, at 1:42 pm


Spelling: -ce vs. -se

It is easy to get confused between nouns and verbs that are spelled almost identically. However, here is a simple rule that will help you with two sound-alike pairs of words.

Rule: Generally, the verb form will be spelled with the “s” and the noun with the “c.”

Examples:
advise vs. advice
devise vs. device

Example: She gave us good advice.
Noun meaning recommendation.

Example: Please advise us of our options.
Verb meaning the act of giving a recommendation.

To learn more about confusing words and homonyms, click here.

Read more…

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Posted on Tuesday, October 19, 2010, at 3:49 pm


Adding Suffixes: To Double or Not to Double Consonants

Do you ever wonder if you should double a letter when adding a suffix? For example, why does shop become shopping, not shoping since hope becomes hoping, not hopping?

This week’s tip will help you spell correctly when adding suffixes. We have Lawrence K. to thank for sending this suggestion as well as for many of the examples.

Tip: When adding a suffix, double the final consonant if the preceding vowel would otherwise change from short to long.

Example: shop / shopping
Explanation: Without the additional “p,” the pronunciation would rhyme with hoping.

Example: bat / batted
Explanation: Without the additional “t,” the pronunciation would rhyme with gated.

Of course, what kind of English rule would we have without exceptions? (A consistent one?)

According to the tip, transit and profit should both have their consonants doubled when adding a suffix. Otherwise, the “i” becomes long. However, this is not the case.

Examples:
transit / transited / transiting
profit / profited / profiting

In an effort to make us feel even less secure with our spelling, some words are spelled correctly by either doubling the consonant or not.

Example: travel / traveling OR travelling (British preference)

The moral of the story is that we often have no choice but to look these words up or rely on spell checkers that don’t always catch these exceptions.

Pop Quiz

1. I am writing / writting my memoirs.

2. I need a new fited / fitted sheet for my bed.

3. She felt traped / trapped in her job.

4. The boat was propeled / propelled by jet fuel.

5. This document needs formating / formatting.

6. The announcer recaped / recapped the plays.

7. Her remains were intered / interred in the nearby cemetery.

8. His book still hasn’t been edited / editted.

9. She hoped that meditating would help her become enlightened / enlightenned.

10. Labeling / labelling your files thoughtfully will help you find them again later.

Pop Quiz Answers

1. I am writing my memoirs.

2. I need a new fitted sheet for my bed.

3. She felt trapped in her job.

4. The boat was propelled by jet fuel.

5. This document needs formatting.

6. The announcer recapped the plays.

7. Her remains were interred at the nearby cemetery.

8. His book still hasn’t been edited.

9. She hoped that meditating would help her become enlightened.

10. Labeling or Labelling your files thoughtfully will help you find them again later.

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Posted on Tuesday, July 20, 2010, at 12:07 pm