Tag Archives: spell-checker

Email embarrassments

The other day I received an e-letter that made me cringe. I signed up for the e-letter because I respect the writer and value her insights. I’m not one to unsubscribe just because I notice a few typos—I occasionally make them myself, after all—but I did raise my eyebrows when I noticed that—not once but twice—she used “past” when she meant “passed.” Yes, twice the context called for the past tense of the verb “to pass,” but she instead used the adjective “past.”

I’ve mentioned before that I try to keep my nitpicking in check. I’m not interested in being that person who points out everyone else’s mistakes, and I’m usually OK with the evolution of the English language. But sometimes I can’t help but feel a little bit of embarrassment for others’ mistakes, like I did when I read the “past” email. I’m 99% sure that this woman knows the difference between the homophones. She was probably mortified when she realized her mistake. That kind of oversight can happen to anyone, including us nitpickers. Keep your email embarrassments to a minimum by following these rules: 

  • Don’t rely on spell check. Spell-checking programs miss many of the most common errors. Its/It’s confusions, for example, sneak right through. As you proof your emails, keep an eye out for those kinds of errors in particular.
  • Triple check anything you change. This used to happen to me all the time: I’d be proofing my writing, decide to make a change and realize too late that the change completely confused the sentence. Since, in my mind, I was “fixing” the sentence, it didn’t always occur to me that it might not be for the best. Now I make a point to read over those changes an extra time to ensure that the new sentence is grammatically correct, flows and isn’t confusing.
  • Don’t write when you’re tired or distracted. Almost inevitably, the emails, Facebook messages and blog comments I write first thing in the morning include at least one error. My brain just doesn’t cooperate before I’m fully awake. If you have to write when you’re tired or distracted, save the piece to review when you’re more alert.
  • Know your weaknesses. Since the e-letter writer used the wrong form of “passed” twice in one message, I’m guessing it wasn’t the first time she’d made that mistake. Pay attention to the slip-ups you’re prone to, and look for them when you proof your work. For some reason I err on contractions, so I always review my work to see if I used “it’s” when it should have been “its,” “you’re” when it should have been “your” and “they’re” when it should have been “there” or “their.” I catch more of them than I’d like to admit!

How do you avoid email embarrassment?

Why spelling bee champs prefer math—my theory

By Amy Beth Miller

The favorite school subject among the 275 students competing this week in the Scripps National Spelling Bee has nothing to do with words. It’s math.

As I pondered that, and my own recent difficulty spelling a word, I developed a theory: They prefer math because of its certainty.

Math follows definite rules and formulas. It’s predictable: 2+2 always equals 4.

As soon as we begin to teach children rules for spelling, we start explaining the exceptions: I before E, except after C, and … (at least half a dozen other situations).

Championship spellers study letter patterns and exceptions in multiple languages. In geometry, the Pythagorean theorem holds true in any language: a2 + b2 = c2.

The bee challenges competitors with words that have only one correct spelling. Many of those words aren’t the ones that people regularly encounter in daily life.

As I was tapping out a note to a friend, explaining why I didn’t like a character in a novel, the spell-check program flagged “whiney” as incorrect. Unwilling to just accept its suggestion of “whiny,” I grabbed my dictionary.

There I found “whiny also whiney.” That means “whiney” occurs much less often, according to the dictionary’s nearly half-page explanation of how it codes variant spellings.

And spelling is just one of our language’s many complexities.

Can you imagine mathematicians debating the placement of a decimal point like editors debate comma usage?

Are you a super speller? Test yourself at the bee’s site, and then tell us in the comments section below how you did.

[Image Source]

Georgetown’s commencement ceremony making headlines for the wrong reasons

By Catherine Welborn

I wish I could say that Georgetown University’s terrific commencement speakers were receiving all the attention, but they’ve been overshadowed by the spelling error on the cover of the graduation program (shown above).


It’s a minor error in the sense that the transposed letters are easy to miss. I’m sure that many audience members didn’t even notice the mistake. However, the blunder went viral, turning it into quite the embarrassment for Georgetown.

Georgetown is a top-ranked university; you wouldn’t expect to see proofing errors on any of its literature. More interesting is that professors from the school’s linguistics department developed the first spell check system for IBM in the 1970s. You’d think they’d have mastered the art of proofreading.

To be fair, it’s the kind of mistake anyone could make, even the savviest editor or biggest nitpicker.  I have to feel a little bad for Georgetown and whoever approved the commencement programs. My guess is that the inside of the booklet was carefully checked and that the cover was just overlooked.  Let this unfortunate event serve as a reminder to proofread carefully every document we produce, and when possible to have multiple people check our work.

If you want to avoid the errors and typos that make others second-guess your intelligence and professionalism, be sure to check out our guide, Proofread Like a Pro. You’ll learn a systematic approach that takes the guesswork out of proofing, so you’ll never embarrass yourself or your organization.

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What are the worst proofreading errors you’ve seen?

Fatal errors in job applications

By Amy Beth Miller

One candidate lost a job before I even opened the envelope. I was hiring a copy editor, and that person had a typo in the return address.

A female manager I knew would toss any cover letter that began “Dear Sir.”

Executive recruiter Leslie Ayres has a series of posts about amusing résumé bloopers here. She cites an example of an executive who boasted about leading “the Day-to-Day Execution of 450 People and all Their Associated Work.”

That’s even worse than the mistake I saved a friend from making. By relying on a computer spell-check program, he had a line that said he participated in “mergers and accusations.”

When my sister worked in a printing shop, her attention to detail helped many job seekers avoid embarrassment. She once asked a customer “How do you expect an employer to call you when you don’t have your phone number on your résumé?”

What’s the worst mistake you’ve seen on a résumé?

‘Smart’ phones aren’t, so read before you send


By Amy Beth Miller

Most people have learned that they can’t blindly rely on spell-check programs when they write documents or email. But in the push for faster communication, many are texting without checking, and that can be downright dangerous.

The auto-correct program on mobile phones can turn innocent errors into embarrassing messages. Imagine sending a text message to your boss or staff member in which “busy” is replaced by “busty” and “request” has turned into “pervert.”

Those are two of the milder examples of auto-correct blunders captured through the website Damn You, Auto Correct! The site has been up only since last October, and already it has led to a book boasting 300 “Awesomely Embarrassing Text Messages.”

When I receive a text message with an obvious and confusing error, I feel disrespected. I know that the sender wasn’t rushing to save a life, so the decision to send the message without checking it amounts to the sender saying “My time is more valuable than yours.” And it wastes both our time.

Pause for a few seconds to read your message before you hit Send. The few seconds you’ll spend will prevent loads of embarrassment and save you the time you’ll waste explaining an error—or working to salvage your reputation.

Have you sent or received an embarrassing or funny text message because of the auto-correct feature? Share it with us.

[Image via Damn You Auto Correct]