Many years ago, one of my birthday presents was an enormous eraser–about the size of an index card, 3×5. On it was printed the boast, “I never make misteaks.” That’s hard for me to type; my spell checker auto-corrects. It’s embarrassing to find mistakes in my own writing (unless they’re intentional)–but sometimes great fun to catch someone else’s.
English has lots of homonyms. For anyone who wasn’t paying attention during several years of school language classes, that means English has lots of pairs of words that sound the same but have different spellings. Inevitably some careless writer will choose the wrong word. I call them misused pears. Why? Because deliberate mistakes are fun!
Since it’s summer, I’ll start with something that came to me on an email list, where the writer thanked someone else “for letting me know about this great key points summery of. . .”
Summery belongs to the summer, of course, but it’s an adjective. It describes something as being like summer. When someone writes a brief statement of the main points of a longer piece of writing, it’s called a summary.
Usually, when people make a mistake, they choose the more common spelling. Maybe it’s just a reflection of what kinds of things I read, but I see and hear “summary” much more often than “summery.” Apparently the perp in this case didn’t recognize that -ar can form the neutral schwa sound as well as =er.
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The next entry is true to form. Someone wrote to a prayer chain, “My nephew has a staff infection. A staff can be literally a stout piece of wood that someone can lean on or figuratively a group of employees one can lean on. It cannot be an infection.
Infections are common, including one more formally known as staphylococcus. No one but medical professionals or pedants uses that word. I decided to google the common shorthand, staph, so I could find and copy/paste that one. Somehow I don’t trust my spell checker to help me when I really need it!
Anyway, the nephew had a staph infection. It’s something that most people have far more occasion to say than to write. No wonder it frequently comes out as “staff.”
Spell checkers are no help at all with homonyms, to the writer who has correctly spelled the wrong word. It’s hard to proofread, too. Writers all know what they meant to write, and that’s what they’re likely to see when they proofread their own deathless prose.
That would explain the complaint about a speaker, (People couldn’t here him, instead of “hear.”), or someone’s explanation of why some service isn’t free, (“I have limited time for coaching, so their has to be a cost for it” instead of “there.”)
These writers probably aren’t ignorant of which of a pair of homonyms to use. Just careless. At least, if you catch that kind of thing in anything I write, it’s because I looked for it and didn’t see it. I do know better.
But how do you explain this one? An online article claimed, “Most guys where a fragrance everyday.” Where and wear aren’t really homonyms at all. They’re not pronounced quite the same way. The spell checker couldn’t tell the difference.Google+