You all understood that last paragraph, right? Context and all that? Cool, and the spell-checker says it’s okay so I’m just going to call that good...
No, wait. If we go that way I’ve got nothing to talk about this week.
Hot tip for the week. Spelling matters. Last week I mentioned there are certain things that are always right and wrong. Spelling is one of them. There’s no quicker way to tell an editor or reader you’ve got no idea what you’re doing than to have a lot of spelling mistakes in the first few pages of a manuscript. And if I’m going to put a lot of effort into double and triple-checking the first ten pages, I might as well act like a pro and check them all.
Hot tip number two. Every spell-check program is an idiot. They can be outsmarted by my almost-one-year-old nephew banging on the keyboard with his eyes closed. If I decide to take on an idiot as a writing partner, whose fault is it when there are mistakes in my manuscript? Heck, we’ve all been stuck with an idiot at work at some point in our lives, yes? But did we ever depend on the idiot? Did we let everything ride on the idiot doing their job, or did we cover our butts and make sure everything was getting done regardless?
Now, there are those people who try to say spelling and grammar don’t matter. If the story’s good, you should be able to enjoy it even with a few typos and malonyms and failed parallels and so on. And there’s some truth to that. I’ve enjoyed a lot of stories with two or three typos in them.
What I haven’t enjoyed are stories that have two or three typos on the first page. And the reason I haven’t enjoyed them is because I stopped reading at that point. Just like any other casual reader will. In the few cases I’ve been required to read the rest of the manuscript, I usually found that the writer who couldn’t be bothered to learn how to spell also couldn’t be bothered to write a remotely interesting story. No big shock there.
Another argument I’ve seen a few times is that spelling and grammar and conjugation are all arbitrary anyway. There isn’t a “right” way to spell words, it’s just a set of rules some people made up and decided everyone had to follow. Of course, by that logic, there aren’t any real rules to football--those were just made up, too. So next time you play a friendly game of football with your friends, try giving hockey sticks and cricket bats to your linebackers. Please let me know how it goes over with everyone.
And there’s also a few folks who try to use first person as an excuse for typos. “It’s not me, it’s the character who doesn’t know how to spell.” The problem here is that a reader can’t tell the difference between deliberate mistakes and accidental ones. All they see on the page is a mistake, plain and simple. And a manuscript loaded with mistakes is going to be one that probably ends up in the big pile on the left.
Soooooo...with that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the ways wanna-be writers proved they didn’t know how to write. As before, I remind you that all of these are actual typos I’ve come across. Most of them more than once. To be honest, almost a quarter of these came out of one particularly incoherent screenplay I had to read. One came from the first paragraph of a proudly self-published book whose author claimed the people mocking his spelling were just jealous because they’d never written a book. And one I’ve seen repeatedly at a much larger website that likes to put up posts about stupid spelling mistakes people make...
heel and heal – one of these is a command to a dog
beet and beat – two reds--your kid should not be one of them
vale and veil – one of these often refers to death
bare and bear –one of these means to endure or tolerate
here and hear—one of these is where you are right now
minuet and minute—one of these means small
can’t and cant—one of these is a secret language
pedal and peddle—one of these deals with motion
strait and straight—one of these refers to waterways
trusty and trustee—one of these is a person
moors and mores—one is social, one is ethnic
sheer and shear – one means to slice, the other means perpendicular
cloths and clothes – one of these is made into the other
site and sight—one is found on a firearm
profit and prophet—one of these is often religious (don’t be snarky)
imminent and eminent —one will be happening soon
baited and bated—you don’t want your breath to be one of these
calender and calendar—one is a tool, the other is a machine
essay and assay—only one of these in a verb
breath and breathe—only one of these is a verb
domed and doomed – one you’re screwed, one you’re protected
ramped and rampant—one of these is just out of control
trader and traitor—one sells loyalty, one sells goods
surely and shirley—this writer never saw Airplane...
nee and knee—married women are sometimes addressed this way
tied and tide – one of these will have to hold you over until later
It’s also worth noting that—much like my first paragraph up above--none of these words are spelled wrong, which is why spell-check programs ignore these mistakes when a writer makes them. They’re just the wrong words, period. The only mistake on the spell-checker’s part is that it assumes the writer knows what the hell they’re doing and there’s a real reason you put down moors when you meant mores. Of course, as I mentioned before, the spell-checker is an idiot...
Y’see, Timmy, using shear when I mean sheer is no different than calling that new girl Elizabeth when her name’s Andrea—in both cases I look like an idiot who can’t be bothered to learn the right word to use. Or like someone who trusted an idiot to get these things right.
I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again—get a dictionary. You’ll retain more searching through a dictionary than you will by tapping change or ignore on your spellchecker. There’s some nice ones on Amazon, or you can probably find one cheap at a used bookstore. Don’t worry if it’s a couple years out of date—99% of the words are the same. The big red one on my desk is from 1997 and I’ve never had a problem with it.
Next time I’ll probably just have a quick tip for you. Assuming I don’t start overthinking it and freeze up or something.
Until then, go write.