Spelling: Words that Confound Spell-Check

Blogs have spell check, but when you use a word wrong, spell check won’t help you. I was reading the first chapter of a book on someone’s blog today, and I kept stumbling over words that didn’t mean what the writer meant.

“His voice has a pleasant timber.” Unless he’s spitting toothpicks, she meant timbre. Timber is wood. Timbre is the pitch of a sound.

“Her decollage peaked his interest.” From the context, it wasn’t deconstructing a collage that excited him, it was her decolletage, a low neckline. And it  piqued his interest. Totally different word. It’s from the French and it means to give it a little stab of interest. Peek is to look, peak is a top of a mountain, and pique (pronounced peek, that’s why it’s a problem) means to be interested in.

open dicttionaryLast week, in the newspaper, I read that woman had performed while she was ill. “She was a real trooper.” Only if she was a policeman. In this case, she was a trouper. Because she was in a troupe of actors, dancers, or other performers. And the show must go on.

In today’s newspaper, I saw a grocery store that had a “souper sale.” I thought it was a joke, maybe tomato or chicken noodle soup was on sale. Nope, just a typo. A super big one.

Some other words that give us trouble:

It’s is never the possessive. When its tail comes to rest, the dragon will be sleeping. No apostrophe. That’s hard, but the only meaning of it’s (with an apostrophe) is it is.

Disinterested means fair or impartial. It has nothing to do with not being interested.

Peruse means to read carefully, not to skim.

Lie is to recline, lay is to place. I lie down on the bed, I lay the baby back in bed.

Sheer is see-through, shear means to cut off.

It’s a moot point, not a mute point. Moot means debatable, mute is silent.

One of a kind, shortened is  “one of.” If you have three apples on the shelf and one is taken away, you have two on the shelf and one off. If you are talking about single pieces, it’s “one of” not “one off.

Actionable means subject to being sued. It does not mean to take action.

Using words incorrectly makes your writing look unprofessional. And in a world filled with aspiring- and recovering perfectionists, it’s better to check twice, type once.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer and certified creativity coach. See her work at QuinnCreative.com (c) 2009 All rights reserved. Image: altaread-austin.org