Thursday, August 9, 2012

A Pullet Between The Eyes

            Don’t worry, that title will get explained soon enough...
            First things first, though.  I was doing some clean-up here and realized there were a few old drafts that had been saved.  Stuff no one ever saw where I was testing how things worked here.
            Long and short of it... this is post #200 on the ranty blog!  I can't believe any of you have hung around this long.  Heck, I can't believe I've hung around this long...
            Many thanks to all of you.
            Anyway, to celebrate, let's talk about one of my favorite topics.  Spelling.
            As I’ve mentioned here once or thrice or twenty times, in order to be  a writer I have to have a solid vocabulary and I need to know how to spell those words.   Absolutely nothing will shoot down my chances faster than an editor finding a half dozen misspelled or misused words.  People can argue all they want about literary brilliance and arbitrary rules, but at the end of the day spelling mistakes are always going to be the first thing an editor or reader judges my manuscript on.  That’s why I need to know these things and get them right.
            And when I say “I” in this case, I mean “me.”  I need to know these things.  One of the absolute worst mistakes a writer can make is to become reliant on their computer’s spell-checker.  A computer doesn’t understand context or nuance, it just understands if a word is spelled correctly or not.  To the logical processes of a spell-checker, there’s no difference between oozy and Uzi, rain and reign, or shear and sheer.  They’re all spelled correctly.  So if I’ve got a mercenary waiving his oozy as he tries to climb a shear cliff in the reign... well, the spell checker’s going to tell me that’s fine.
            Case in point—the title of this week’s little rant.  That golden gem was found in the manuscript for Ex-Communication by one of my readers.  That’s how one of my zombie killers made sure his friend wouldn’t rise to become one of the undead.
            With a chicken.  And the spell-checker saw no problem with that.
            If you don’t understand the comedy there, work on your vocabulary.
            Y’see, I use a spell-checker, but I don’t depend on it to do all the work for me.  I get a second set of eyes on the manuscript (and a third, fourth, and fifth) and I go over it myself line by line, usually in two different formats.  And I own a dictionary.  A real-world, three-inch-thick copy of Webster’s with a bright red cover that I can turn to if I need to check spellings or definitions.  So when I send something out to a publisher or an editor, they’re not going to see someone take a chicken in the head.
            And that brings us to the new list of misspelled and misused words.  One of these appeared on a major retailer’s website.  Another one showed up on a fairly big pop culture website.  And a couple of them are, alas, examples of  people who trust the spellchecker a lot more than their own common sense (I’ve got a few friends who are professional readers who love to share typos with me). 
            So, a vocabulary test.  As always, feel free to keep score...

overseas and oversees – only one of these is a place
hoard and horde – one of these is a mob, one is a collection
bus and buss – one’s a playful kiss, one’s an electrical conductor
flout and flaunt – one means show off, one means to mock
monolith and monogram – one of these would be your initials
whole and hole –one of these you fall into
hurdle and hurtle – one is a verb, one is a noun
pair and pare – one of these means to whittle down
racket and racquet – one is sports equipment, one is noise
pane and pain – one is a shape for glass
discus and discuss – one is an Olympic event
breaks and brakes—one is for wheels, the other is for windshields
tactical and tactile—only of these pairs with logistics.
reek and wreak – one of these stinks
heroine and heroin – one of these is a bad addiction
plaintive and plaintiff – one is sad, one is accusing someone
least and leased—one of these refers to rental contracts
corral and coral—you’ll only find one of these underwater (hopefully)
drier and dryer –one of these is a machine
site and sight –one of these is found on a firearm

            Did you get them all?  Remember, you only get points when you knew what both words meant.  Which one of the above words relates to touch?  Which one’s a large stone?  Which one’s an attraction?
            For some folks, it doesn’t matter.  They’ve become so dependent on the spell-checker they can’t even grasp the idea that the machine doesn’t know what word they were intending to use. All they see is that the spell-checker said it was right, therefore their hovel is flawless! 
            You’ll find a lot of these same people in forums bitching about how all the big editors have unrealistic expectations and don’t know good stuff when it’s right in front of them.
            Y’see, Timmy, spelling and vocabulary are not mechanical because language is not mechanical.  That’s why I can’t trust a machine to know these things for me.  If I can’t be bothered to learn them, I’m going to fail again and again and again.
            So buy a dictionary.  Learn to spell.  Learn what words mean.
            Next time, one last quick cut I forgot about.
            Until then, go write.

3 comments:

  1. "therefore their hovel is flawless"

    I think I found the secret message!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Actually, "hurdle" is both a noun and a verb -- you hurdle a hurdle. But you hurtle toward hurdling a hurdle.

    ReplyDelete