How to write better than your spell checker

Did your spell checker make mistakes for you last week? Especially with homonyms (words that sound alike but are spelled differently)?

How to write better - spell checker

Trouble is, spell checkers don’t get homonyms. What happens is if you type in the wrong homonym, as long as it’s a real word itself, your spell checker in its profound deafness will cheerfully let it go. And if you’re in a hurry or not paying full attention, the goofs go straight out to your readers, customers and other important people.

Of course there are the other goofs you can’t even blame on your spell checker…and they are caused by, er, human error. Let’s see if we can put at least some of them right, and have a few smiles at the same time.

The top 10 galloping goofs I’ve seen in the last 7 days

1. Peak when they meant peek, or pique. A peak is the uppermost, usually conical, pyramidal or at least pointed part of a building, mountain, ice cream cone or any other object of that shape. A peek is a quick glance, often from behind twitching curtains on village main streets. Pique is something you feel when annoyed and want to throw your toys out of the pram. You could, of course, in a fit of pique take a peek at a peak, although if it were me I’d probably choose to kick someone in the shins.

2. Pole when they mean poll. A pole is either a long rod or cylindrical stick which you can use variously for fishing, pushing a boat along a very shallow river, or running a flag up. The word pole is also used in science to describe either end of the axis that runs through an object, usually a sphere – e.g. North Pole, South Pole. The word poll, as a noun and a verb, covers pretty well everything to do with elections or ways for people to give their opinions. (It’s also used to describe the part of a horse’s head right between and slightly behind its ears. Thought you might like to know that….!) And for a sentence using them all? In response to an opinion poll, the explorer made an expedition to the North Pole where he planted his country’s flag on a long pole. Let’s not worry about the horse, but I’ve shared a photo of him below…

Without delving into the private parts of a bivalve mollusc, it’s a bit of an irony that a mussel is actually a muscle, sort of.

3. Comprises of. This drives every grammar nazi I know right up the wall, me included. I don’t know why it is, but unlike most other well-known English goofs hearing or reading this can turn the nicest of crusty old professors into slavering chainsaw murderers. Anyway: it’s either composed of, consists of, etc., but comprise/comprises/comprised/comprising are always by themselves. No of. Ever. A sentence? The luxury kitchen consists of a range of state of the art appliances comprising a stove, refrigerator, freezer and dishwasher, composed entirely of  Neff branded equipment. (Sorry to slip that naughty adverb in – couldn’t help it.)

4. Elder-eldest, older-oldest, younger-youngest, etc. I wish I had a pound or, well, two dollars for every time I hear or read someone describing the second of two things/people/cats etc. as the eldest/oldest/youngest/etc. Basic grade school grammar taught me that was wrong – didn’t it teach you that, too? If there are two items, the second one is a somethingER. It’s only when there are three or more that the third one (and subsequent ones, but let’s not go there now as it gets trickier) becomes somethingEST. A sentence? I have three daughters: the youngest is still at school, my elder daughter is the oldest in her choral trio, and my eldest daughter is the older partner in her tennis doubles team.

Breaks are periods of rest and recreation, or the 3rd person singular of the verb to break. Brakes are what makes your car stop.

5. Add (noun) when they meant ad. This gets confusing nowadays because both are abbreviations of longer words. Add is usually a short form of addition, such as writing “thanks for the add” when someone has added you to their group on Facebook. Ad is short for advertisement. In some English language countries the latter is shortened to advert which although removing the confusion versus add, makes professional advertising workers turn purple in the face (it’s considered amateurish, so best avoided.) OK… Thanks for the add to your group: how soon may I place an ad in there?

6. Muscle when they meant mussel. Without delving into the private parts of a bivalve mollusc, it’s a bit of an irony that a mussel is actually a muscle, sort of. The part people eat certainly is muscular, anyway. However muscles are part of most animals’ anatomy. If you mean the tasty shellfish/seafood dish called moules marinière (or various other recipes), they are mussels. No sentence this time: see above!

You could, of course, in a fit of pique take a peek at a peak, although if it were me I’d probably choose to kick someone in the shins.

7. Breech when they meant breach. Breech with the double E means backwards – e.g. when a baby is born feet first. Breach means to break through, or an opening or parting of something previously harmonious. Sentence? Despite the fact that they may have been in breach of hospital regulations, the medical team delivered the baby in the emergency room as it was in the breech position.

8. Compliment when they meant complement. A complIment is a nice, flattering comment about how you look, work, sing, run marathons, chop onions, etc. Can be a noun or a verb. ComplEment also can be a noun or a verb and means to complete or enhance. Oh, alright then. His kind compliment was just the complement I needed to round off a perfect day.

How To Write Better Spellchecker goofs

The word poll also describes the part of a horse’s head right between and slightly behind its ears.

9. Breaks when they meant brakes. This goof is very popular in automotive circles. Over the last few weeks I have seen several social media posts about taking their car to the garage/shop to have its breaks checked. Makes me want to comment with something like “just how many breaks does your car need to rest up during the working day?” But I try not to be that bitchy. Breaks are periods of rest and recreation, or the 3rd person singular of the verb to break. Brakes are what makes your car stop. In my lunch break today I have to take my brother’s car in to have the brakes tested, before he breaks my neck for forgetting to do it yesterday.

10. Sort after when they meant sought after. This is very common in property/real estate ads, especially in the UK where the term “sought-after” means something people are keen to seek out, in which sought is the past tense of the verb to seek. Can’t really blame the spell or  grammar checkers here though. Sort after is total BS, but the words do sound similar if you speak with an English accent. Sentence? He said his house was in a sought-after area, but I said it was nothing of the sort, after which he burst out laughing. Well, I tried my best…

Want to write better with or without your spell checker?

You might find this useful to help you with homonyms and things. And for help with several more writing-related topics, have a look here

In the meantime, what are the most common spell checker goofs you have seen recently? Please share!

Questions? Drop Suze a note on suze@suzanstmaur.com

Photo of Sandman the horse by Gail Taylor of the Wing Jumping & Dressage Centre.

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