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Ellen Cline, writer
Creative communication that markets, informs, and entertains

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Word Woes—Misspelling Mishaps

Author: ; Published: Jan 6, 2012; Category: Editing and Proofing; Tags: , , , ; No Comments

Mr. Smiley

I’ve been stumbling upon mistakes in places where I have rarely noticed them in the past: The New York Times Book Review, The Visual Thesaurus Word of the Day, even the J. Peterman catalog, which used to be known as the best example of catalog writing out there.

These are not all homonym problems, but a variety of typos, misspellings, misuses, and missing words.You’re not the only one making mistakes. Everyone needs an editor, even the editor. But let’s try to learn something from these mishaps.

First, two examples from the Visual Thesaurus Word of the Day, a daily email I really enjoy receiving and which usually is very well written and edited.

  • Border Crossing Word of the Day: limbo
    Theologians get credit for introducing this Latin word (meaning "border") that originally denoted a place where your not-quite-pure soul might cool its heals, whilst awaiting a possibly better final destination.

(Your soul, if it had feet, would be more likely to be “cooling its heels,” I imagine than “cooling its heals.”)

  • Say What You Will Word of the Day: bequeath
    The wish to assert a controlling hand after you’ve cashed in your chips is surely as hold as humanity, for bequeath — give by will after your death -is among the first words to appear in English.

(Here a simple typo, “hold” for “old” gives the phrase an interesting alliterative twist, but warps the meaning.)

In a review of the book, “The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris,” by David McCullough, written by Stacy Schiff, in a section talking about the Franco-Prussian War, I found this:

  • A reliable topic of conversation in Paris, food was the principal one during the German siege, when cat meat revealed itself be a delicacy and Paris solved its rat problem.

(Just a tiny word, “to,” is missing, but it makes the whole sentence wrong.)

In the J. Peterman catalog, in a description for the Tie-Shoulder-Dress, the generally witty copy was marred by this example of a misused word:

  • Let’s not even mention the fact there’s a cocktail with your namesake at the Polo Lounge. Yes, yes, your capriciousness always keeps them guessing.

(The cocktail cannot be “with your namesake.” It can be a cocktail with your name or named after you. For namesake to work in this sentence, it would need to say the cocktail is your namesake.)

And last but not least, I found this in a local magazine, in the letter from the editor:

  • Jacob McGee is called a high-rise technician. That might not mean much for most of us. But he’s the guy who straps himself into a harness and repels down high-rise buildings to clean their windows. Well, weather permitting, of course.

(I guess he hopes he repels from instead of attracts to the building as it might hurt when he smashes into it. It would probably be safer if he rappelled.)

 

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