Tag Archives: spelling

Don’t auto-correct my fat-finger, Smarty-pants

Now that “fat-finger” is an accepted term—at least within the American Dialect Society—we have a name for what frustrates us texters. And now, smart phones, thinking they’re smarter than we are, want to offer a solution.

When my smart phone suspects I have misspelled a word, it auto-corrects it. Moreover, when I type three letters, it tries to save me time by auto-typing what it thinks is the rest of the word I mean to type.

In an effort to save users time, the smarty-pants device can cause us great embarrassment.

I know of two instances in which a smart phone changed ordinary words–face and facts–to “feces.” I saw one online, stating that “his feces lights up when you enter the room.”

I saw one example in which a person asked a colleague to “come here for a sex.”

Recently I was texting my son and told him that company was coming for dinner. At least that’s what I meant to say. On his end, my message said that Cosby was coming for dinner. This week the darned thing changed “vice versa” to “vice versatile.”

Laugh-out-loud examples are all over the Internet, including at Damn You Auto Correct and FU, Auto Correct.  

Can you top them? What’s the most embarrassing auto-correct you have had committed against your fat-finger?

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Morpheme drip

On October 15, National Dictionary Day Eve, I came out with my confessions of being a dictionary dweeb. Since then I have received a variety of dictionaries from some thoughtful readers. One day soon, we will get into A Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English, which I received from a reader in Alaska (make of that what you may; we’ll need to see if “refudiate” is listed).

In the 10/15 post, I recalled the first dictionary I ever had, The Harcourt Brace School Dictionary, which I used in the fourth through sixth grades. I thought I had it around here somewhere but it was not be found among my childhood artifacts. I will say it again, I loved that dictionary. And yesterday I discovered that everything I know about grammar, spelling and word usage came from that primer. Which explains a lot.

My mother sent me the old dictionary for my birthday. It still smells the same as it did in 1970.

It seems that, when I went on to junior high, I passed the Harcourt Brace on to my younger brother, who wrote his name in it three times, along with a phone number and a note that said, “If not home, call back in 2 or 3 hours.”

Prior to that I had doodled all over the cover and inside pages. My friends had scribbled,  Monica loves XXX, several times, and I had crossed out all the XXXes. There were small illustrations near some of the definitions, where I had written the names of people I didn’t like. One illustration is of a peccary and, even today, I couldn’t have told you what a peccary is without consulting the definition: either of two wild animals of tropical America, like pigs with sharp tusks. I won’t say whose name I wrote under that.

The real nuggets are found on the first 65 pages, before the definitions of words beginning with A.

Pronunciation keys, spelling charts, abbreviations, basic dictionary skills, age-appropriate etymologies, parts of speech, idioms, they’re all in there, along with a section on Spotting the Troublemakers. There are sections on variant spellings and pronunciations, regional pronunciations and British and American spellings.

It’s good to know that during these years, I wasn’t spending all my time reading Tiger Beat and pinning Bobby Sherman and David Cassidy posters up on my walls.

So class, who can tell me what inflectional forms are? The inflectional forms of a word are forms changed by adding a morpheme. What’s a morpheme? I need a refresher myself. I can’t even make out Wikipedia’s explanation. Expect a post on morphemes soon. Perhaps you’d like to write it.

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Punctuation is FUNdamental

Most major national news outlets covered the leaked angry e-mail from Alaska’s former First Dude Todd Palin to Joe Miller, Alaska Republican Senate candidate, and Tim Crawford, treasurer of SarahPAC, regarding Sarah Palin’s presidential aspirations, qualifications and possible support of Miller. But The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank got my attention, in a recent column in which he poked His-and-Hers fun at Ms. Palin’s made up word and Mr. Palin’s gross misuse of punctuation: “Will somebody please refudiate our fear that there is a serious punctuation problem in the Palin household?”

Here’s the e-mail and here’s your challenge. How many punctuation errors can you count?

Joe and Tim,

Hold off on any letter for Joe. Sarah put her ass on the line for Joe and yet he can’t answer a simple question ” is Sarah Palin Qualified to be President”. I DON’T KNOW IF SHE IS.

Joe, please explain how this endorsement stuff works, is it to be completely one sided.

Sarah spent all morning working on a Facebook post for Joe, she won’t use it, not now.

Put yourself in her shoe’s Joe for one day.

Todd

In the 80-word body of the e-mail, I count eight.

Occasionally, when I notice errors, friends and colleagues advise me to go easy on people, especially if they were not fortunate enough to go to college.

First, I am quick to volley back with the fact that some of the most articulate and punctuation-savvy people I know did not go to college. Second, I’d be the first to acquiesce to this advice if I were pointing out errors pertaining to material taught in college.

But didn’t we all learn basic grammar and punctuation long before college? Spelling certainly isn’t a university level course. Didn’t we have to master these fundamentals in order to get into college?

So, out of Todd’s eight errors, I am going to give him the benefit of the doubt on half, because it was an e-mail he thought no one but its addressees would see and also because I know as well as anyone that some errors might simply be typos.

I’ll ask the English teachers (and English students) who read this blog if they agree. Would you grade Todd on the curve? How many points off for apostrophe abuse, semicolon deficit and misplaced quotation marks? (Notice, Todd, dear, I ended my question with a question mark.)

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Sounds easy enough

You’ve seen me refer to the Fake AP Stylebook before. The group puts out funny little comments about language every day on Facebook and Twitter. If you don’t use these, you can go elsewhere to see some great examples. Some really get me thinking.

Case in point:  A recent post observed, “there/their/they’re – What, seriously? This confuses you?”

I have never had trouble distinguishing among the three. I don’t find it confusing at all. But it’s not because I’m good at remembering rules necessarily; otherwise, I’d have gotten this bring-versus-take thing down long ago.

What I realized is that it says something about the way my brain works.

When I hear and when I speak, I see the words written out. I suppose this means I am a visual learner or perhaps a visual thinker. I envision words as they are spelled. Maybe that’s why I have such a sensitive ear when it comes to pronunciation. If people saw “sherbet,” maybe they wouldn’t say “sherbert.”

Like the Fake AP Stylebook, when I see there/their/they’re confused, I am tempted to wonder how anyone can get it wrong. I also wonder how anyone graduated from second grade without mastering it, but perhaps I’m too quick to judge.

“There,” “their” and “they’re” are homonyms. They sound exactly the same. It’s no wonder people who are not visual learners might be homonymphobic.

If we had to spell according to how words sound (“sound it out,” we were always told), especially in this confusing language we call English, how can we be expected to commit the difference to paper?

Maybe I can offer some tips.

Let’s start with “there.” “There” is often the answer to “where?” “Where are my glasses? There they are.” On top of my head, usually. So that one’s easy:  Where?  There! Spelled the same (after their respective consonant digraphs).

“They’re” is a contraction of “they” and “are.” Until I had a baby, I thought contractions were easy. You begin with what you are (you’re) trying to say and shorten it; for example, “They are” doing something. With a contraction, typically a letter and a space come out, an apostrophe goes in and, voilà, two words become one. In a sense, they’re getting married. To use song lyrics as a prompt, “They’re Playing Our Song” or, for readers of my generation, “They’re Coming to Take Me Away, Ha-Haaa.” By now they probably are.

I haven’t come up with a tip for “their.” Maybe you have one. For now, let’s just say it’s the other one, and remember, “i” before “e” except after “c.”  Oops, and except in “their.”

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Sunday schooling

My thanks go to Merl Reagle, editor of the crossword puzzle in The Washington Post’s Sunday magazine, who practically wrote this blog post for me.

I had intended to write a follow-up to pieces I posted earlier on mispronunciations, misspellings and malapropisms. Then Sunday’s puzzle beat me to it, using something Reagle called “eggcorns.” 

Spoiler alert:  If you haven’t done the Sunday puzzle and intend to, you will want to skip over this for now.

Eggcorns, Reagle explains, are things people say and write that are technically incorrect but have a logic of their own.  For example, the business located to the right of yours is “next store.”  Get it? 

In the puzzle, the clues are what make the incorrect phrases or spellings correct.  I will leave it to you to read those in the crossword itself.  Here I will list a few of the answers as examples of commonly misspelled or mis-uttered phrases.  We should take note, as I suspect we’ve all made at least one of these errors in our lifetimes.  Recognize any?

  1. wet one’s appetite
  2. butt naked
  3. hone in on
  4. sacreligious
  5. bellweather
  6. laxadaisical
  7. expatriot
  8. Here, here
  9. unchartered waters
  10. a tough road to hoe

If any of these looks correct to you, see me after class and I will tell you what it is supposed to be.

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Bee proud

You can have your baseball.   You can have your American Idol.  I’ll take a good spelling competition any day.

The National Spelling Bee.  That’s entertainment.  And it takes place right here in town.

Bee Week is my World Series.  And Bee 2010 did not disappoint.  At least that’s what I read.  Instead of watching the final round Friday night I was at, ahem, a baseball game.

How can you not love a spelling bee?  There are no drunk spectators, it’s a civilized show of preparation and skill and you just want to hug the contestants.  The person giving the words is called the pronouncer, reason enough to love this sport.  And if they broadcast it on ESPN, it’s a sport, no?

This year’s Scripps National Spelling Bee boasted a record 273 spellers ranging in age from 8 to 15 years.

This year’s winner was 14-year-old Anamika Veeramani, from Ohio, who correctly spelled “stromuhr” in the final round.  Just to get to the final, she and other youngsters had to correctly spell words like confiserie, ochidore and leishmanic—and do so with poise and composure under the pressure of live television, bright lights and the presence of fierce competition for a national prize.

These kids today.

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Justice I am, without one plea

I am feeling a little Andy Rooneyish today.  I can almost hear him narrating this post.

Last month, I was handed a uniform traffic citation outside my home state.  Because there is a court date looming, I realize I am taking a risk by blogging about it.  But I can’t resist.

To recap, a state trooper pulled me over for driving 69 miles per hour in a 55 mile-per-hour zone.  Then he wrote me a ticket for 70 mph, which could have consequences beyond a simple fine.

Following this incident, I received letters from seven of that state’s law firms, pitching their services in helping me get the charge reduced or dismissed.

I finally sat down and combed through all the letters.  The first one hit me with its rash of unnecessary quotation marks, so I decided one way I’d sort the letters would be to weed out those that didn’t pass the Word Nymph test. 

Here’s where Andy Rooney comes in.  Just picture him sitting there behind his cluttered desk, amidst the open envelopes, letters and the waivers they all come with (in case you haven’t been so fortunate as to receive one).

The first letter comes from a “Community Oriented Law Firm.”  In quotes, but no mention of who said it.

The second claims, I am not a Big City law firm.  Is this supposed to be a selling point?  Or is Big City a municipality in that state?

The third letter talks about fines for running a Stop Sign or Red Light.  Capitalized.

The fourth displays the following tagline below the firm name:  honoring Him by serving those with legal challenges in our community with integrity and excellence.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

The fifth one touts its postage-paid envelope for sending back the waiver:  No stamp necessary!  Exclamation point! Wow, if this saves me 44 cents, then they’ve got MY business.

The sixth letter went straight to the bottom of the stack for twice using the obnoxious parenthetical numeral.  That’s in case you wouldn’t otherwise know  – Traffic offenses generally cause insurance points to be assessed against you that will result in increased premiums for a period of three (3) years.  For example, premiums can be doubled for a traffic violation that carries four (4) points.   I’m glad they made that clear, as I was absent the day they taught us how to spell numbers.

The seventh letter begins a paragraph with, If you have not already plead guilty…  Isn’t it pled?  Or pleaded?

The reality is that, if I choose to obtain legal representation, I place my fate in the hands of one of these firms.  And I do so humbly because I am being charged with a violation that has nothing whatsoever to do with grammar or punctuation.  Traffic law is the great equalizer.

Anyone out there have a cousin Vinny?

Word Nymph will resume on Monday, after spending Sunday asking forgiveness for her irreverent headline.

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