Monday, February 14, 2011

Spelling Nazi

I admit it, I am a spelling Nazi. Sorry, but it has gotten to the point where I can barely translate some posts into standard English. So, for the benefit of the spelling impaired, I offer some corrections of the most common errors I see (to be updated as more occur to me):

1 .There was never a Shaw of Iran, try Shah.

2. If something comes in a pair, use dual, not duel.

3. Unless you redicule someone, the word is ridiculous, not rediculous (I blame a Ricky Ricardo mispronunciation -- perpetuated by Eddie Murphy -- for this one.)

Well, it is a short list so far, but, as I said, I will keep adding to it.

Added 09/21/2007

Two more to add. One is a grammar error, the other is a logical error, but both drive me mad:

1. Infer/imply - Just to make this absolutely clear:
         Infer is to draw a conclusion from what has been said
         Imply is to suggest that others draw a conclusion
  So the listener can infer what the speaker implies. It does not work the other way.

2. There is NO 12 PM or 12 AM! I know clocks and computers claim noon is one and midnight the other, but they are wrong! PM is "post meridiem" (after noon), AM is "ante meridiem" (before noon). So, how can noon be either before or after itself? Noon is just noon, not 12 PM or 12 AM.
Midnight is a bit harder, but still has the same problem. Midnight is exactly 12 hours before noon and 12 hours after noon. So is it AM, PM or both? Best to call it midnight.
Why make such a big deal about this? Because I see documents using 12PM and 12AM and I can't tell if they mean midnight or noon. Since one minute after noon is 12:01 PM, I assume most people use 12:00 PM to mean noon, but if they thought for even a moment about what the Latin abbreviation meant, they would see that the statement is just silly. (12:00 Noon After Noon sounds pretty ludicrous). (And, at least one person agrees with me: http://wsu.edu/~brians/errors/ampm.html.)

Well, two more nit picking complaints to add to my list. I am sure more will follow.

Added December 3, 2007
Your and you're drive me nuts as well. I know everyone makes a mistake now and then, but lots of posts seem to show the writer has no idea what the difference is. So, for those who never learned:

"Your" is the possessive form of "you", while "you're" is a contraction of "you are".

eg. You're not your job. Petting your dog means you're his friend. And so on...

This is why, when you say "Your pathetic", I want to respond "My pathetic what?"

More to follow, again.

Same day, a little later:
And, because no one seems to get this right:

"It's" is the contraction of "it is", "its" is the possessive of "it".

Yes, this looks like an exception to the rule that possessives get an apostrophe, but it really isn't. None of the pronouns have an apostrophe in their possessive form. "Mine", "ours", "yours", "his", "hers", and "theirs" all lack apostrophes, and so does "its". So, "its" makes complete sense if you think of it as a possessive pronoun.

Added 12/19/2007

This is one I just made, and one that drives me crazy, even when I am the one making the error:

Principal is a noun or adjective, meaning "main", "primary", "most important"
Principle is a noun, meaning a rule or guideline

If you look at my most recent post ("What we need") you will see one of these words below the list of 5 items. If you looked soon enough after I first posted it, you would have seen the wrong one.

I may be a spelling and grammar nazi, but at least I admit when I make mistakes.

Some Homonyms 12/27/2007
Here are a few homonyms no one seems to use properly (oddly enough, two are sets of three homonyms, not the usual pairs):

1.  Site is a place, a location, and, by analogy, a web page (web site)
     Sight is something you see, or the process of seeing (See the sights with your sight)
     Cite is to reference something. (Cite the web site.)

2. Than is used in comparison (taller than...)
     Then refers to sequence of events (then he went...)

3. To means "in the direction of"
    Two is a number between one and three
    Too means also, or excessively
     An example: We went to the store with the two who had too much, too. (Yes, it is gibberish, but it shows the proper use of each word, something many seem to be unable to understand.)

4. Not exactly homonyms (depending on your accent), but many seem to mistake these one for the other:
     Our is the possessive first person pronoun
     Are is the plural 1st and 3rd person of "to be" (also the singular and plural 2nd person)
     R is a letter, often used by semi-literate people as a substitute for "our" or "are"

That is it for now. More to follow.

One More 12/28/2007
This is one that drives me utterly mad. I cannot stand the misuse of less/fewer. Supposedly educated people can't even seem to get this right. The error almost always takes the form of using less when fewer should be used, not the other way around.

Here is the rule:

Fewer is used when describing something that can be broken down into discrete, individual units.
Less is used when the item is not capable of being divided into discrete units.

Here are some examples:

You can have fewer people, but less air.
You can have less money and fewer dollars.
You will have less sand but fewer grains of sand.
It can take less time, but fewer minutes.
It may take less effort, or fewer attempts.
Does everyone see the distinction?

(Added 01/07/2008: I found an example in an online advertisement for Dermitage: 'Less wrinkles in 10 minutes." Since wrinkles are discrete, countable objects, it would be 'fewer wrinkles', though one can be 'less wrinkled'. Just wanted to show that even people who hold down real jobs in advertising can make this mistake.)

Updated 12/31/2007

My favorite site (Common Errors in English) has a nice article on the less/fewer issue. It also mentions another pair of errors that annoy me (much/many and little/few) which also relate to fewer/less. The site's analysis rests upon the concept of number versus amount, which is very similar to the rule I present in my comment above.

Rather than trying to summarize the short essay, I will just direct you to the page itself.

Updates 1/12008

First addition of the new year. And a confession, too.

In a comment to one of my posts, I made an error I usually try to avoid.

You rein in something, as reins are used to control horses
Kings reign over kingdoms
And rain falls from the sky.

The rein/reign error is mentioned on my favorite site.

Well, there you have it, an error I managed to make myself, and in a location I can't edit.

A Brief Aside 01/02/2008

This is related, though not exactly on topic, but it is close enough to the topic of this post, that I figured I should post it here:

In the course of a dispute on one column's comments I accused someone of "tilting at strawmen". He replied with:

It's "tilting at wind mills." At least learn english before trying to use it.

I replied that he misunderstood my intent, but I feel I did a poor job, so I would like to explain here. It is also a good way to bring up another topic that annoys me: Readers who only know archaic words via cliches.

You see, this writer only knew the word "tilting" from this one cliche, so seeing it used in any other context caused him to think I was quoting incorrectly, when, in fact, I was using the word to evoke the quote, but with an altered meaning.

Here was my thought:

Tilting is a perfectly ordinary English word. It means to charge with a lance lowered, as in jousting. In my experience, writers generally use "tilting" for formal jousting contests and not for charges conducted in the course of battles, making me see the word as the jousting equivalent of "sparring". I may not be entirely correct in that perception, but it is how the word sounds to me.

The phrase "tilting at windmills" obviously derives from Don Quixote, and means carrying on a fight one is destined to lose, with the connotation that one is doing something noble.

By using part but not all of this quote I intended to indicate that the writer thought he was engaged in a noble quest, a la Quixote, but in reality he was fighting against only straw men he had created. (Yes, I was mixing metaphors, but I think in this context the mixed imagery actually worked, as the image, taken literally, actually reinforces the perception I wanted to create. If one pictures a man setting up a straw man then skewering it with a lance, the image conveys the pointless activity I was trying to describe.)

Which brings me to my point: I am shocked that so few writers seem to have a broad knowledge of English. Had this writer known the word "tilting" outside of that single cliche, he would not have thought that my statement was a mistake. (I had a similar problem with a high school English teacher, many years ago. My habit of using the word "touted" seemed to disturb him, and was often marked as an "archaic usage". In retrospect, I think it was more likely my teacher was unfamiliar with the word, as it is hardly an archaic word.)

But having thought about this recent dispute, and several similar incidents, I am convinced that anyone having a background in more archaic usages, especially those who have a fondness for literature from the 18th or 19th centuries which used a broader selection of words, will often have others misunderstand them, as modern schools seem to have little interest in expand students' vocabularies.

In short, those of us who love English and are fascinated by finding the most appropriate word or phrase will often run afoul of those who are satisfied with a few thousand word vocabularies. And, as our schools seem to often fail to spend much effort in teaching either vocabulary or a love of English or literature, I am sure those with a horribly circumscribed vocabulary will only increase in number.

Originally Posted in Random Notes on 2007/06/13.

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