Column: A Word, Please: Spell-check’s misses are a hit on Twitter
The party was riven, torn apart by a shocking scandal no one saw coming until Nov. 11 when it exploded on the front page of Alabama’s Times Daily newspaper. “Roy Moore: Party Divided Over Sex Clams.”
This headline, tweeted as a screen grab by Twitter user Bremner Editing, is just one of the gems you can find under the hashtag #SpellCheckCannotSaveYou — a veritable gold mine of entertaining and edifying errors that I overlooked a few weeks ago when wrote in this space about two other Twitter hashtags, #SpellCheckCantSaveYou and #SpellCheckWontSaveYou.
The one with “cannot” is more popular than the two I featured, and it’s home to some bona fide doozies, like “sex clams” in place of “sex claims.”
As another example, take this sentence spotted in the book “Fire and Fury” by the user @PCBain: “Bannon, with mounting ferocity and pubic venom, could abide them less and less every day.”
That should be “public venom.”
Bivalves are well represented under #SpellCheckCannotSaveYou. “Please remain clam,” was an error tweeted by Pebble Cove Editing.
But carnivores, take heart: #SpellCheckCannotSaveYou serves up turf along with the surf. “The poultry are getting rebellious,” tweeted Madam Grammar, introducing an excerpt from a news article that reported “a couple chickens tried to escape their new coup.”
That should be coop.
Or, for those who prefer red meat, here’s a good one from my friend Mededitor: “Without pork to pedal, ‘leadership’ has very limited control.”
Every girl who grew up on a farm knows you don’t pedal pork, as pigs are woefully lacking in foot-operated controls. The writer, no doubt, meant “peddle,” meaning to sell.
A baby sheep, on the other hand — now there’s a mount that will take you places. “The man whose life story was told in the movie ‘Shawshank Redemption’ will be granted parole by the state of Ohio following his capture last year after being on the lamb for more than half a century,” reports an article tweeted by @LawWife2005.
That should be “the lam,” which is what you’re on when you want to elude the authorities sans the mint jelly.
But it’s not all yuks under the #SpellCheckCannotSaveYou hashtag. There are also some serious proofreading insights from experts like my friend freelance editor Karen Conlin, who shares typos from her real-world editing work.
“Supper isn’t super. Unless you’re really enjoying that meal, in which case it might be,” Conlin tweeted recently — a reference to a typo she spotted in a client’s prose.
“Shuttered” used in place of “shuddered” is another error Conlin caught that a machine had not.
In many ways, this hashtag is more useful than the ubiquitous “Commonly confused words” lists that litter the Internet and sometimes this column. These include terms like “adverse” and “averse.” The former means bad or negative, the latter means a feeling of repugnance or dislike. And, yes, they get confused a lot.
But the tweets tagged #SpellCheckCannotSaveYou show real-world errors that never make these lists even though they plague writers and editors every day.
For example, Andy Hollandbeck, a veteran editor who blogs tips and insights at Copyediting.com, recently noticed a sentence in which someone “represented being called simple.” Hollandbeck caught the error and fixed it to read “resented being called simple.”
“Represent” and “resent” aren’t commonly confused words. Everyone knows the difference — everyone but your fingers, which can easily mistake the two when you’re typing.
And here’s a great example tweeted by a user named VeryHangryCopyeditor: “The never was severed.”
The day when computer spell-checkers can catch that “never” and realize it should have been “nerve” is years away. Until that day arrives, spell check cannot save you.