A Word, Please: Spelling makes all the difference

Glendale News Press

ACNN.com editor was walking down Hollywood Boulevard right around the time actress Julia Louis-Dreyfus got a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Except, as the editor reported, Julia Louis-Dreyfus didn't get a star. Someone named Julia Luis Dreyfus did.

I'm the world's biggest typo apologist. As an editor and proofreader, I know that mistakes happen. No matter what you do, errors are going to slip in. And some are going to slip by editors and proofreaders, too.

I'm part of a team that edits and proofreads documents multiple times. In almost every document, one proofreader catches something another proofreader missed. We're only human.

Machines aren't perfect, either. People rely too much on spell-checkers. They're great tools, but only when they're combined with human vigilance. Even so, they can't prevent every typo.

And running spell-checker does not, as many people think, give you license to stop paying attention. That's what happened to the writer of a document I edited recently in which Giuseppi and Spielberg were spelled right numerous times, but other times in the same document they were spelled wrong. Obviously, the writer was just carelessly clicking "ignore" every time spell check questioned one of those names.

But, no matter how soft your view of typos, there's no excuse for what the CNN editor saw. That misspelling was not the result of human fallibility. It was the result of carelessness and a chain of workers with an "it's not my job to check" mentality.

When spelling counts — say, for example, when you're putting words in stone for posterity — vigilance is mandatory.

Here are some of the errors I consider most insidious. Based largely on real mistakes by professional writers, this isn't a list of most common typos like "their" for "they're" and "affect" for "effect." These are lesser-known and even sneakier ones that can get past professional writers and even spell-checkers. Be on the lookout for them.

Ceremonies don't take place at an alter. They take place at an altar. Here's one I caught recently in an article I edited. A high-end fashion designer does not have "a certain cache." He has cachet. Also, a designer doesn't have a flare for using color. He has a flair.

I once read an article about a cancer survivor in which the interviewer asked what it was like "in the throws of your illness." She meant "throes." That's a lot like "floes" — the big chunks of floating ice that should never be spelled "flows."

If you want to say that a wine perfectly rounds out a meal, you want the word "complement," not "compliment." And you "pore" over a book, not "pour" over it.

Be very careful with "led." Never use the "lead" in a pencil as the past tense of a verb. Here's a typo that made it into an early printing of "The Da Vinci Code": People usually disburse money, not disperse it.

The most common typo I see online is "I need some advise." No, they need advice. I recently edited an article about bridesmaids' accessories that suggested wearing a nice broach. Dictionaries strongly advise you to spell it "brooch."

A friend of mine read a book recently in which, right on page one, the author said that his efforts were "all for not." I bet his editor feels the same way. The word is "naught."

People who write "free reign" mean "free rein." And when someone fails to waver, that's different from when he signs a waiver.

If you want to see more, do a Google search for "homonyms." They're the words most likely to land a writer in the Hall of Shame. But the most important thing you can do to avoid typos is to always take the time to check.

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