Archives for posts with tag: Spelling

Pore over this, if you too are similarly mistaken.

You learn something new every day. It’s always a pleasure for me when I learn something new about the English language.

I’ve often used the term to ‘pore over’ something, meaning to take in all of the detail of something. Finally, a hundred times after I’d used the term or heard it used in conversation, I saw it written down in a story on the BBC website. My initial reaction, arrogantly, was that the writer had made a mistake and that I was right. 15 seconds later I was proved wrong. How could I have doubted the August BBC?

I had always assumed it was to ‘pour’ over something, as in the example of pouring gravy on my roast potatoes, or pouring our eyes over a document or painting. But no, different root word, different etymology, different spelling.

English is rough. Really rough sometimes, and not just on people who speak it as a second or third language. For us native speakers too.

Take palate, palette and pallet for instances. One is in your mouth, the second is a board for your paints or a family of colours for your product or company identity, and the third is a useful device for stacking, lifting and moving a bunch of items.

All of them sound exactly the same, at least in my accent, to the ear. Yet, they all originate in different root words and consequently are all spelled differently.

I must confess I spelled the second version wrongly the other day. I thought it was double ‘l’ as well as double ‘t’. Thank goodness for autocorrect. And thank goodness too that it wasn’t a fourth spelling variant, at least not to my knowledge.

This kind of thing never fails to remind me of the two different languages we use; the written one and the spoken one.  While you might think that the written one is harder, try explaining to a non-native speaker heteronyms like ‘tear’, words that are spelled the same but mean different things and are pronounced differently. I think I’ll stop there…

I often see the words stationery and stationary mixed up. It’s an easy mistake to make, and is only an issue in the written word, since both words are pronounced identically and the context is usually clear.

Stationery is a noun, meaning office and desk-type stuff. Think millinery, machinery, that kind of thing.

Stationary is an adjective, meaning motionless. Think customary, arbitrary, and so on.

And of course, because this is English, you get nouns like anniversary and adjectives like blustery :-).

So, remember to keep your stationery stationary and you’ll be fine. Good luck!

I was reading a software manual the other day – I know, very rock and roll – and a sentence began ‘To do so, go to…’. All quite legitimate and grammatical. Also, written by an organisation that doesn’t use English as a first language and whose author was Eastern European, betrayed by a few other incidents of phrasing elsewhere in the document.

It got me thinking about our fabled, ancient, and multi-rooted English language, and how impenetrable it must seem to learners of the language. Not of the spoken language, but of the written language. The dictionary must be constantly at hand.

We don’t even think about it as native speakers, but right there you’ve got five two-letter words, all ending in ‘o’. In order, one’s a infinitive prefix, one’s an infinitive verb, one’s a kind of adverbial thingummybob that can mean a bunch of things depending on where it is in the sentence, the next one’s an imperative verb and the last one’s a preposition. Phew!

Not only that, but two of the words have completely different vowel soundings to the others.

They’re testimony to how the language has evolved over the years.

Congratulations to the writer for getting it right, but, boy, we don’t make it easy. I won’t even get started on two, two, sew and sow…

Here are two words that tend to be confused – not the words themselves, of course, I’m sure they know what they mean and how to spell themselves – in certain circumstances.

Take the old-fashioned compliments slip, used to add one’s good wishes or hello to an item sent to someone. And we know someone is being complimentary about us when they say nice things. All good so far.

Then there’s complement and complementary. I first came across the word complement in a Latin lesson where it was used to describe, for example, the word ‘good’ in a sentence like ‘the boy is good,’ where the adjective carried the same case as the noun, as though the phrase was actually ‘the good boy.’ With me so far?

The confusion arises when you consider the word complementary/complimentary. The former completes or supports something, the latter says something nice.

So imagine my consternation when I was invited to a complimentary webinar the other day. I was about to scoff in contempt, thinking, ‘I doubt this is a webinar where they’re going to say nice things about me.’ Surely they’re offering a complementary webinar, where the webinar supports the product I’ve just bought?

But then, I thought, maybe they did mean complimentary, in a sense that the webinar was free, gratis, for nothing. I had to grudgingly give them the benefit of the doubt. Coulda gone either way.

I know, I should get out more, it’s true…

IMG_3535Where’s a physical spell checker – otherwise known as a dictionary, which nobody carries any more – when you need one? I remember about 20-some years ago in the US I saw a ticket tout with a sign saying ‘I wont (sic) tickets’.

Here’s a picture of a slightly more recent gaffe.

Online spell-checking tools in our email and document creation applications make it easy for us to avoid elementary blunders. They’re like calculators though, they make us lazy with our command of the basic skills of literacy and numeracy.

It’s OK to make these mistakes verbally, because it’s a different language to the written form and no-one can read what you say. Not so when your output is codified for all to see.

We can’t always rely on our friends to put us right on our mistakes. We have to do the work ourselves, or risk being found out.

“There’s many a slip ‘twixt cup and lip,” as the saying goes. One small letter can make a world of differences and there are Sunday magazine comic strip writers who have made their livings out of this fact.

Always make sure you don’t mix up prescription and proscription. They’re different prepositions, and different propositions entirely! One will help you feel better whereas the other probably won’t.

Always better to be prescribed that proscribed. 🙂

Never know if you should be spelling those pesky little words like practice, advice etc with a ‘c’ or an ‘s’?

As with a lot of things, it depends on the context, that is to say whether you’re using a noun or a verb.

My Dad explained it this way to me once and I never forgot it: You advise some advice, and you practise some practice. As long as you remember to say it practIZE, and spell it practISE, you’ll be laughing.

Easy! Bear in mind, though, that this holds true for British English, not so much so for the other strains of English. Sorry!

I’ve touched on our troubles with apostrophes in a previous post. Sometimes these rogue apostrophes appear in content without reason. Lest we forget, apostrophes can only be used for 2 principal reasons:

1) To signify possession, as in Paul’s house is rather small

2) To signify a missing letter, as in Paul’s a rather small man

As I’ve touched on in the previous post, you don’t need one when you’re using plurals with nothing possessed. The trees were swaying, for example. But you do see apostrophes with nouns, so the confusion is perhaps understandable.

Not so when you see the howler of an apostrophe with a verb. Just the other day I was reading a press release from a company I admire, and presumably it was written by someone who writes for a living. It began as follows: “Today see’s the launch of …”

What?! On what planet does that make sense? Hell’s bell’s … 🙂

Of all the spelling mistakes that jarr the senses, the use of ‘of’ when we mean ‘have’, is the worst.  It makes me cringe – which one should pronounce as ‘curringe’, with the accent on the second syllable, for emphasis – as it betrays a lack of understanding of the basics of our beloved language.

It stems I think from the use of the shortened form of ‘have’ in common parlance, as in ‘I could’ve been there’.  Two things stick out for me here. Firstly, surely they know that the full length version is ‘should have’ and can make the micro-leap to ‘ve?  Secondly, isn’t it odd how words like isn’t and should’ve are spelt as one word, not two?  You would logically expect to see is ‘nt, or should ‘ve, but I guess we’ve been economical over time and moved the orphaned word into the bosom of the main verb.

For more on this, see a rather good summation from Dave’s ESL Cafe.

It’s not really acceptable to use it in texts either, since ‘ve’ works perfectly fine as its own word in that medium, with or without the apostrophe. Our use of language in mobile device texts is a whole other ball game though, and will probably provide plenty of fodder for future posts.

Of course, you could avoid looking a bit stoopid by saying ‘shoulda’.  As long as you don’t write shouldo…