Tag Archives: spelling

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.”


Filed under All Things Wordish, Music, Technology and Social Media

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.


Filed under All Things Wordish, Reading

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.


Filed under All Things Wordish, Movies, Television and Radio, News, Sports and Recreation

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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Filed under All Things Wordish, Foibles and Faux Pas

A Giant spelling error

Re-branding.  It’s going on all around us.  Giant Food, one of the Mid-Atlantic region’s largest grocery chains, has just completed a massive re-branding.  This year they rolled out new corporate colors and a very cool logo.  My local Giant has transformed the inside and revamped all the signage in accordance with the new brand.  As a consumer, I appreciate the added in-aisle signs pointing specifically to what’s on the shelves. 

Anyone who has worked for a large corporation knows the magnitude of re-branding and the sizeable price tag attached.  I presume there was extensive research leading up to the effort—focus groups, studies of consumer behavior and due diligence on the legal and intellectual property implications.  I suspect a beefy staff of compliance experts oversaw the rollout.  But they omitted an important function—the spellchecker.  

I try not to be too judgmental (most times) but I can’t roll my cart down the frozen food aisle without bristling at the sign pointing to the “Sherbert.”   This word is commonly mispronounced.  It’s tempting to want to make it rhyme with Herbert.  But it’s sherbet, people, not sherbert!  

At least half a dozen times now, I have approached the customer service desk, now cheerfully re-named the Solution Center, at the front of the store, to alert management to the slip, but chickened out as I got close.   If I drew their attention to the error, would I be perceived a snob?  I often operate under the skewed assumption that people are grateful for being made aware of their errors.  But they don’t usually accept this edification as the gift it is intended to be.  Would management be any less offended if I alerted them to an expired sell-by date on a product still on the shelf?  

Likely the signs come from a central warehouse anyway and the store managers have no direct control or concern over what comes down from corporate.  Still, this is a Giant mistake.

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Filed under All Things Wordish, Food, Marketing/Advertising/PR