Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Not Quite Clear Communications

The other day I was running errands and, as is my habit, I was surfing channels on the car radio.  I have little patience for commercials, and no tolerance whatsoever for songs I don't like, so the preset buttons get a pretty good workout until I give up altogether and switch to the CD player.

I hadn't yet lost my patience when I tuned to a local "Adult Contemporary" station just in time to hear its daytime tagline:

      "Because work is no place for love songs"

Not a bad marketing ploy – except that the tagline was sandwiched between "Need You Now" by Lady Antebellum and some romantic ballad whose title escapes me right now.

The fact that this station is owned by Clear Channel Communications only adds to the irony...

Monday, December 27, 2010

Homemade for the Holidays

Here's proof that typos don't stop for the holidays.  I caught this one on Saturday night's Fox21 newscast:

Don't know about you, but I've never heard of a "homade" bomb – and neither have my dictionary editors…

Next time, Fox folks, try "homemade."  Red is a popular color this time of year, but red faces are not.  :-)

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Where, Oh Where, Has the Missing Word Gone?

The hellidays haven't left me much spare time to devote to the Perpetual Hunt for Rampant Typos, so today I'm addressing one of the more common errors I see in online articles:  missing words.  

In most cases, the word that's missing from the sentence is a minor annoyance that doesn't much change the meaning of the sentence.  Readers who skim articles may not even notice that a word isn't where it's supposed to be – it's that brain-automatically-plugs-in-missing-word thing again.

Admittedly, these examples aren't very exciting, but in each case the sentence gave me pause the first time I read it because something just wasn't right.  My brain is very good at filling the blanks, so I had to read the sentences again to figure out what was off.

From an article about the FDA's take on the term "all natural" as it applies to food products:

"…But it won't object to term as long as products do not contain added color, artificial flavors or synthetic substances."  ["object to the term"]

A writer describing the grand opening of a new library branch made this observation:

"… In quieter corners of the building, families thumbed through books about Star Wars and pets or perused an ample selection audio books."  ["selection of audio books"]

Finally, from yet another article about a fire:

They immediately additional fire trucks and firefighters.  [An entire verb is missing here.  Called?  Summoned?  Insert a word of your choosing…]

Why do so many words go missing?  I doubt they're running away from a bad home page environment.  Most likely they're omitted by haste on the writer's part, and poor or nonexistent copy editing just keeps them invisible.  

Kids, the moral of this story is:  Always, always, always proofread your work – and get a second set of eyes on it whenever possible.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Word Mash-Ups

I like it when people blend two words into one.  Word mash-ups can be funny ("hellidays" is my personal favorite this time of year), or they can simply be pragmatic.  Example:  "Rusticle" is a word that's not in my handy-dandy doorstop dictionary, but it's commonly used to describe stalactite-like formations of rust, such as those found on the wreck of the Titanic:  icicle + rust = rusticle.  Makes sense, right?

Here's one that isn't truly a mash-up, but you can see how two words collided in the writer's brain to produce a totally incorrect word.  In an online story about the passing of film director Blake Edwards, the writer noted that Edwards:

"…brought to life 'The Pink Panther,' which spurned a number of sequels…"

To spurn means to reject, refuse or drive away.  However, it is possible for "The Pink Panther" to spur or spawn sequels.  Maybe the writer just couldn't decide which word to use and opted to use them both, thinking:  spur + spawn = spurn.

Too bad that particular mash-up doesn't work.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Verbal Slips and Trips

The world also apparently needs a dialogue coach...

Hearing other people misspeak can be amusing.  I laugh not because I'm mean-spirited, but because I've had my share of verbal blunders over the years and it's nice to know I'm not alone.  My family still ribs me about the time during my teenage years when I pronounced "picturesque" as "picture-skew."   

Thankfully I wasn't in front of a video camera at the time, but sometimes I think family memories can outlive videotape...

To make a gaffe in front of friends or family is one thing.  It's something else altogether to err in front of an audience.  We all expect media professionals and those in positions of leadership to be more polished in front of the camera than we would be, but that's not always the case.

From the Department of Redundancy Department, a reporter narrating a segment about a warehouse fire proclaimed, "The vacant building was vacant..."

In a report about the legality of a public official's place of residence, a reporter mispronounced the legal term "inhabitant" as "inhibitant" (which isn't even a word as far as I know). 

During a press conference, our own Governor Ritter addressed the lack of information about which homes had been destroyed during the early stages of the Boulder wildfire.  He understood how frustrated homeowners were, not knowing if their properties had been "implicated in these fires."  (Affected or impacted?  Yes.  Implicated?  No.)

My absolute favorite verbal gaffe of the year, though, wasn't so much a slip of the tongue as it was a skewed attempt to recall an elusive name.  It comes from my own husband's comment about a foppish man clad in purple and red that we saw at this summer's Renaissance Festival:  "He looks like that--what's he called?  The Purple Pumpernickel!"

He, of course, meant the Scarlet Pimpernel.  Yes, that one will live in my memory for quite a long time. <grin>

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Punctuation Counts

Today I'm firing up the Wayback Machine – or, more appropriately, the Several Months Ago Machine – for an article about punctuation mistakes on resumes.  I've discussed resume flubs before, but in today's tight job market the message is well worth repeating.

In a September 24, 2010 article on titled The Well-Punctuated Resume, Charles Purdy discusses five common punctuation errors job-seekers make on their resumes.  Remember, your resume is an employer's first impression of you.  A resume that's riddled with grammatical and punctuation gaffes says you don't pay attention to detail, and that attitude – whether perceived or actual – will quickly sink your chances of being hired.

Purdy's Top Five punctuation errors:

  • Misplaced apostrophes.  Purdy reminds readers that each apostrophe "should indicate possession or a contraction."
  • Misused quotation marks.  Some people use quotation marks to emphasize a point.  Used improperly, however, quotation marks can lead to unintended interpretations.
  • Improper comma use.  Commas can be tricky.  For a refresher, try the Purdue Online Writing Lab.
  • Exclamation points.  Purdy comments that these should be used sparingly, if at all.  Frankly, I can't think of a single reason to use an exclamation point on a resume, so just don't.
  • Special characters.  In many cases, even hard-copy paper resumes are scanned by a software program designed to recognize select keywords.  Special characters, bullets, etc. can confuse the software and create a jumbled mess.  Keep these characters and symbols to a minimum, or delete them altogether.
Bonus:  Charles Purdy also notes that September 24, 2010 was National Punctuation Day.  How could we have missed that?!   

Monday, December 6, 2010

Say What You Mean

Ah, romance is in the air!  The royal wedding of Britain's Prince William and Kate Middleton was recently announced, and the news media was all astir with talk of the couple and the lavish upcoming ceremony.  In at least one instance, an AP reporter was apparently editing on the fly and didn't check to make sure she included all the words in this sentence:
"He [Prince William]…recently completed training a Royal Air Force search and rescue pilot."
There is a bit of difference between training a pilot and training AS a pilot…

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Take a Queue

I'm working a part-time retail job this holiday season, and it's a highly overrated experience, let me tell you.

Fortunately, the typos I've caught in this national chain's employee training materials have helped to keep me somewhat amused.  Most of the errors have been relatively minor – you know, missing words, words run together, transposing letters, etc.  The most egregious one I've seen appeared in a video about engaging customers in conversation for the purpose of signing them up for a store credit card:

"Take your queues from the customer…" (Truth.  I don't make up this stuff.)  

We all know (or should know) the correct word is "cue," as in a signal or prompt.  A "queue" is a line of people waiting to be served.  It is also a lesser-known synonym for a type of what we commonly call a "pigtail" or "ponytail." 

Then there was this training handout (corporate images removed to protect the guilty):

Welcome to a great first day on Day 2… Fail!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Monday Morning Quarterback

The Black Friday sales flyers yielded no typos of interest – or maybe I simply lost interest, because I find the whole Black Friday thing totally inane anyway.  Nothing says "the holidays" like fistfights over children's toys at 3:00 a.m. or flattening someone else's tires in a mall parking dispute.

But I digress…

These tidbits all come to us courtesy of my favorite local TV news station's web site, which has already supplied plenty of fodder for this blog.

1.  Regarding the theft of a purse from a vehicle:

"Police believe the victim's purse, left on the seat, lured them to break-in."

I'm starting to see more and more instances of hyphens inserted where they don't belong, and I find the trend most annoying!  In this instance, "break in" is a verb (i.e. "to break in") and should not be hyphenated.  The crime itself is a (hyphenated) "break-in."

2.  Isn't it bad enough that a family was displaced by a house fire over the weekend, and that they lost their family pets in the fire?  The poorly written story covering the incident just adds to the injustice.  Here are select excerpts (underlines are mine):

  • "No one was inside the home, except their two dogs." - As written, this sentence says that a person named "No one" owned the dogs.  Well, isn't that an interesting name!
  • "The homeowner's are being helped by the red cross." - Apostrophes are not necessary for a simple plural – it should be "homeowners."  And "red cross" is a proper name that should be capitalized: "Red Cross."
  • "The red cross is helping the family." - This was the last sentence in the story.  Guess the writer forgot he/she had already mentioned that fact…and forgot to capitalize "Red Cross" yet again!
    3.  On the recent accidental death of a beloved giraffe at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, a reporter writes:

    "A 20-year-old giraffe named Uhura fell and died within it's exhibit on Friday…"

    The misuses of "its" and "it's" is one of the more common typos I see.  Many are simple brain-to-hand goofs, but the difference between the two forms can be confusing.  In most cases, possessiveness is indicated by an apostrophe followed by an 's,' as in "the farmer's dog" or "the car's leather interior."

    However, adding an apostrophe and an 's' to "it" indicates a conjunction, replacing "it is."  "Its" without the apostrophe indicates the possessive case.  Here are some examples of correct usage:

    It's a beautiful day outside.  (Replace "it's" with "it is" and the meaning remains the same.)

    The bird explored its new cage.  (This "its" cannot be replaced with "it is" and still make any sense.)

    Go forth, my fellow word warriors, and be grammatically correct in all that you do.

    Sunday, November 21, 2010

    Headline Hijinks

    I cannot take credit for any of these – both the headlines and the snarky commentary came to me in one of those oft-forwarded e-mails circulating on the Web.  But since they fit the theme of this blog, I decided to share.  If you can identify any of the original sources, let me know and I'll make the appropriate credit.
    Man Kills Self Before Shooting Wife and Daughter
    The person who found this one notes, "I called the Editorial Room and asked who wrote this.  It took two or three readings before the editor realized that what he was reading was impossible! They put in a correction the next day."

    Something Went Wrong in Jet Crash, Expert Says [Ya think?]

    Police Begin Campaign to Run Down Jaywalkers [Now that's taking things a bit far.]

    Panda Mating Fails; Veterinarian Takes Over [What a guy!]

    Miners Refuse to Work after Death [No-good-for-nothing' lazy so-and-so's.]

    Juvenile Court to Try Shooting Defendant [See if that works any better than a fair trial.]

    War Dims Hope for Peace [I can see where it might have that effect.]

     If Strike Isn't Settled Quickly, It May Last Awhile [Really?]

    Cold Wave Linked to Temperatures [Who would have thought?]

    Enfield (London) Couple Slain; Police Suspect Homicide [They may be on to something.]

    Red Tape Holds Up New Bridges [You mean there's something stronger than duct tape?]

    Man Struck By Lightning: Faces Battery Charge [He probably IS the battery charge!]

    Astronaut Takes Blame for Gas in Spacecraft [That's what he gets for eating those beans!]

    Kids Make Nutritious Snacks [Do they taste like chicken?]

    Hospitals are Sued by 7 Foot Doctors [Boy, are they tall!]

    Typhoon Rips Through Cemetery; Hundreds Dead [Did I read that right?]

    Thursday, November 18, 2010

    No Peaking!

    "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means." – Inigo Montoya in The Princess Bride
    Has something ever piqued your curiosity?  Have you ever peeked inside a box you weren't supposed to open?  Or have you simply reached the peak of your patience?

    Okay, that was pretty much a bunch of gibberish, but hopefully it illustrates some of the ways that "pique," "peak," and "peek" are used.  These words are today's topic because, once again, I encountered the phrase – nay, the incorrect phrase! – "to peak one's curiosity" and it left me in a fit of pique.

    Confused?  I promise, it will get better.  Maybe.

    Incorrect:  My curiosity was peaked by the note in my lunch bag.
    Correct:  Her sultry voice piqued his interest.

    As a verb, "pique" means to arouse interest or to excite.  "Peak" (as a verb) means to reach a limit or maximum, such as, "He peaked in his third season as a pro."

    Incorrect:  She left in a fit of peak.
    Correct:  His pique over the demotion lasted for months.

    The noun "pique" means resentment, or as puts it, "a transient feeling of wounded vanity."  (I really like that definition!)

    Incorrect:  She peaked inside the foil-wrapped box.
    Correct:  Sammy's pet mouse peeked out of its little house.

    I haven't seen this misuse very often, but I have seen it. "Peek" means to take a quick look.  "Peak" does not.

    And last, but not least, the one that I was certain I knew until I researched it:

          Incorrect:  The elderly man looked pekid.
          Correct:  The doctor noted that the patient appeared peaked.

    Until last week, I would have sworn on a stack of dictionaries that this usage was spelled "pekid" because that's how it's pronounced.  Wrong!  The correct word is "peaked" (pronounced 'peek-id' or 'peek-ed'), meaning wan or pale.

    Who knew?

    There's more to cover in the "peak," "pique" and "peek" realm, but I won't bore you here.  Instead, take a minute to peruse a dictionary and see if that word really means what you think it means.

    Saturday, November 13, 2010

    Irish Nachos, Anyone?

    Today's post comes from one of my favorite blooper sites, Failblog (  I dedicate this to a friend who recently returned from the Emerald Isle:

    (Photo submitted to by Richard Saunders)

    And by the way, "Failte" is not Irish for "Fail."  It means "Welcome."

    Wednesday, November 10, 2010

    Words on Fire

    In a world where we are bombarded daily with multiple news stories, how do you decide which stories you'll read or view?

    You go to the stories that appeal to you, of course – stories that relate to your career, hobbies, or whatever you find interesting.  

    Take a moment to read my previous posts, and you'll see a disproportionate number of entries on fire-related stories.  After fifteen years in the fire service, my eye is naturally drawn to stories about fire and firefighting.  And when the fire happens in my neighborhood, you bet I'm going to tune in or click through to get the scoop!  Inquiring minds want to know – and so do nosy neighbors.

    Today's post is about that very type of incident, but this was more than just your run-of-the-mill house fire.  This case involved a domestic dispute in which a man rammed his car into a house, barricaded himself inside and then torched the place.  Fortunately, the target of the attack was able to get out safely.  Unfortunately, she faces some difficult times ahead.

    Naturally, a story like this receives a lot of local media attention.  Just to be clear, it is the reporting blunders I'm poking fun at today, not the horrible situation that unfolded Sunday night.

    I found this head-scratcher on the web site of a local television station.  Their camera crew captured spectacular footage of the fully – and I mean fully – involved structure, which was posted with the written story.  Yet the reporter wrote:

    "Officials said the house may not be salvageable."

    Do tell.  I'm not necessarily faulting the "official" who said this, because government officials often err on the side of ambiguity when dealing with the press.  But anyone who sees this video can safely assume the house was totally destroyed (and it was).  It is that obvious.  Now, it's possible that this reporter didn't see her own station's footage before posting the story.  If she did, then including this particular comment just looks silly.

    Later in the article, this same reporter notes that fire crews were on the scene some nine or ten hours later, still dousing hot spots.  Here's a tip:  If firefighters are actively working a scene that long after the fire started, there's a pretty good chance that the structure is not salvageable.
    Next up:  A story on a local newspaper's web site, written two days after the incident, says the whole thing began "about 11:15 a.m."  Well, give or take twelve hours because the correct time was 11:15 p.m.  That's just sloppy work.

    This last one is from that same story – and frankly, it speaks for itself:

    "…the house, valued at $282,000 by the El Paso Cunty assessor…"

    Wow.  Does anyone know how to use spell check anymore?  Anyone?

    Thursday, November 4, 2010

    No Typos, Please

    Author, writing instructor and acquiring editor Alicia Rasley, who writes the Edittorent blog, was a guest on the Seekerville blog this week.  In her post, she addressed the top five mistakes authors make in proposals.

    # 1 on the list:  Typos.
    "...especially in the query letter, and mechanical errors in the first page of the synopsis and chapters...Typos jump right out and attack the eyes of editors and agents, and you don't want to cause that kind of anguish."
    If you have a moment, pop over to the Seekerville blog and read her full post.  It's great insight about the things that will cause an editor or agent to reject your writing.

    And no matter what you write, always, always take the time to carefully proofread your work before sending it out to the world.  Your readers will thank you for it.

    Wednesday, November 3, 2010

    Where Have All the Proofreaders Gone?

    That's a question I ask on a regular basis, and it seems I'm not the only one.

    This morning I ran across an AOL article about a recent hotel fire in Philadelphia that was a cover-up for a murder. The article said the fire was "put out quickly and limited to (the victim's) room."

    Accompanying the article, and placed right at the top beneath the headline, was this photo:

    (Photo by by Edward Vielmetti at

    Wow. That's a pretty spectacular room and contents fire! A couple of other readers thought so, too.  Kevin S. commented:
    OK AOL, please tell us why you chose the picture of what looks like a very devastating fire at the beginning of this story, only to find out that the fire was contained to the hotel room? The picture you used makes it look like the entire city of Philly is going up in flames. Nice!
    Wil added:
    The picture did confuse me, also. It is of a forest fire in Santa Barbara, CA, and has nothing to do with the tragedy and fire in Philadelphia. Definitely a slip-up by the editor or proofreader (are there such nowadays with instant computer-to-copy?).
    My thoughts exactly.

    Sunday, October 31, 2010

    Tricks or Treats?

    Here are some scary typos I found this week -- just in time for Halloween! 

    My bank runs a continual loop of ads, trivia, news and other colorful info bits on a flat screen monitor behind the teller counter.  This week they are displaying a greeting to customers:


    Mind you, this is no small-text crawler that zips by in a matter of seconds -- the text is about 2-3 inches tall and part of a full-screen, full-color graphic that displays for about a minute on each pass!  I regret that I didn't have my camera with me so I could show it to you.  It was amusing and, at the same time, rather horrifying.

    My handy-dandy dictionary confirms that there is no 'e' in "spooky" and shows no alternate spellings.  Interestingly, a quick Google search for "spookey" with an 'e' revealed a musician by the name of Spookey Ruben, the same misspelling of "spooky" on someone's blog, and a dog breeding operation in Croatia called "Angel's Spookey French Bulldog Kennel."

    The stuff you can find on the Internet...

    The second Halloween-themed bit popped up while I was doing online research for a college history class.  Regarding laws of the Roman Republic:

    It was an offence to cast or have a which cast any spells on someone else.

    "Offence" is the British version of "offense", so no offense taken by that.  But a pronoun does not cast spells.  Sorry folks -- that's a job for a witch.

    Happy Halloween!

    Wednesday, October 27, 2010

    What's the Point?

    Someone recently asked me why I write this blog.  The short and snarky answer is:  Because I can.

    As if anything is ever that simple... <grin>

    If you read my very first post, you know that I wasn't exactly born with this odd little habit of dissecting everything I read.  It developed over many years of reading, more years working as an office wonk, and kicked into high gear when I decided to take up writing as a serious pursuit. 

    Now some would argue that I might take writing a little too seriously, but that's another discussion altogether...

    I write this blog because I'm fed up with seeing typos everywhere:  books, newspapers, online articles, TV news crawlers, store ads.  I mean, the folks who write and edit this stuff are getting paid to do so; they're supposed to be professionals.  But tell me, just how professional is a news team that misspells "Colorado" in a prominent banner on their five o'clock broadcast?  (Yep -- saw that one two nights ago.)

    My blog won't change the world.  I know that.  Even if I could keep up with the hordes of typos floating around out there, highlighting the same mistakes over and over would quickly wear thin for you as a reader and for me as a writer. 

    So what's the point?

    Mostly, TWNAP is an outlet to vent my frustrations about the bad writing I see on a daily basis, and the apathy that often accompanies it.  Good writing should be the standard, not the exception, for all writers -- not just "the pros."  Even if a writer doesn't have the best grammar or spelling ability, that shouldn't stop him or her from at least trying to get it right.  If nothing else, writing well should be a matter of personal pride -- and a perpetual goal.

    To that end, working on this blog helps me to grow as a writer.  I am constantly challenged to dig into correct word usage, proper placement of apostrophes, or alternative spellings.  (You should see the slew of content I've archived for later posts!)  It inspires me to keep my own writing skills sharp.

    Hopefully my blog will inspire others to continue honing their own writing skills as well.  If we can share a few smiles and learn something along the way, all the better.  Writing is a lifelong education.  In the words of Ernest Hemingway:

    "We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master."

    Monday, October 25, 2010

    Woulda, Shoulda, Coulda

    People tend to write just like they talk, especially in informal communications such as personal e-mails or discussion forum posts.  One mistake I see frequently is using "of" instead of "have" as in the following examples:

          "I could of done more…"

          "She should of been there on time…"

          "It wouldn't of made a difference…"

    The correct usage in these examples is "could have," "should have," and "wouldn't have."  But people have a habit of running words together when they speak, which is fine if the words make a natural contraction:  "could have" becomes "could've," "should have" becomes "should've."

    Spoken aloud, or even in internal thought, "could've" sounds just like "could of," and "should've" sounds like "should of."  And when people write just like they speak – well, you can see how "would of," "should of" and "could of" creep into written use.

    It's still wrong, though.

    Saturday, October 23, 2010

    Wordplay Part Two

    Now this is how you play with words:

    The Force is with Vader: Police dog nabs car theft suspect

    This was the headline of a story posted online at that describes how a police dog named Vader chased down an alleged car thief.

    The ubiquitous Star Wars reference is clichéd, but I still like it…

    The moral of this (and the previous) post?  Humor is subjective.  Very subjective.  Writing humor, no matter the length or purpose of the work, is difficult because people are amused by different things.  Some will smile or laugh.  Others will not.  

    That's just the way it is.

    Friday, October 22, 2010

    Wordplay – or Not

    I love wordplay and puns, especially when they're done well.  The following paragraph header in an article about small kitchen appliances left me a little puzzled, though:


    At first I found the need/knead play on words mildly amusing.  I continued to read, half-expecting a discourse on bread making machines or some other contraption capable of kneading dough.

    My amusement quickly evaporated.

    You see, the paragraph attached to this cutesy subtitle discussed appliances the writer felt were a justifiable expense for food prep – and bread maker or dough kneader were not on the list.  The paragraph really had nothing to do with the kind of "kneading" the header suggested. 

    For a brief moment I considered the possibility that this was just another typo, albeit a well-placed one.  But the tone of the article suggested that "knead" was deliberately used, and not just a brain-to-keyboard disconnect.  I suppose some, including the author and his/her editor (if any), would argue that this particular use of "knead" was just fine for a kitchen-themed article.  It gets the reader's attention, and that's the goal, right?

    To me, the wordplay fell flat.  It felt like the writer was throwing in a cute turn of phrase just for the sake of doing so.  The ploy may have worked for some readers, but it didn't work for me.

    Tuesday, October 19, 2010

    Proofreader on Vacation?

    I had to wonder after seeing this in Saturday's Denver Post.  These are the kind of typos I see regularly on FAILBlog (, but it's a rare occasion to experience one in person:

    The images might be difficult to see, so here's an enlargement of the first one:

    From there it only gets worse:

    I only included the first occurrence, but "A leadin sentence will go here" is repeated on every story - a total of seven times!

    And by the way - "leadin" is supposed to be hyphenated:  lead-in.

    I sure hope that proofreader had a nice vacation, because it might be the last one he or she gets for a while...

    Friday, October 15, 2010

    The Tragedy of Misspeaking

    Even on a good day, the news is filled with stories of car wrecks, assaults, murders and other general unpleasantness.  All too often (because, frankly, once is one time too many) the intrepid TV reporters covering these stories botch their own overly dramatic narrative, leaving their viewers in disbelief.  Not disbelief because the story was so tragic, but because their delivery of it was.

    Recently, a local reporter covering a murder told how the victim had been "shot and killed multiple times."  Unless this was some sort of paranormal undead thing, I highly doubt the victim died more than once…

    Another reporter announced that a person had been "murdered dead."  Imagine that.

    The saddest one I've ever seen was related to a tragic accident in which a mother and two of her young triplets were killed.  This reporter proclaimed that "two of the three twins" lost their lives.

    For the sake of TV viewers everywhere, let's hope that stupidity is a condition that can be cured.

    Monday, October 11, 2010

    Tips to Mend the Errors of Your Ways

    "Never proofread your own work." - Master Gunnery Sergeant Frank Castaneda

    The wise Master Gunny I once worked for wasn't the first to offer this advice, nor will he be the last.  It's hard to spot errors when you're too close to the work, and your brain only muddles the effort by putting misspelled or misused words into context, causing you to miss typographical errors.

    Writers often toil in solitude and under deadline, so it isn't always possible to have someone else proofread your work.  If you must proofread your own writing, try these tips to minimize mistakes:

    1.  Use the spell check and grammar check tools in your word processing program – but don't rely solely on them!  These programs have limited dictionaries, and they won't highlight a correctly spelled word used improperly (such as 'their' instead of 'there').  They also can't tell you when words are missing altogether unless the omission triggers a bad grammar alert.

    2.  Set aside your writing for at least an hour, and preferably a day or more.  Give your brain a break, and reread the piece with a fresh perspective.

    3.  Print the document.  Typos and other errors are usually easier to spot on paper than on the computer screen.

    4.  Allow yourself quiet time, free of distractions, to concentrate on proofreading.

    5.  Read the work aloud.  Make sure you pronounce each word, and don't hurry.

    6.  Read it backwards, starting with the last word of the last sentence.  Work your way to the beginning.

    7.  Always keep a dictionary and a thesaurus close at hand – and use them!

    If you have the luxury of another set of eyes to review your writing, make sure that set of eyes is competent in spelling and grammar.  You want to present your best work to the world, and you can't do that if your proofreader doesn't have a grip on the language.

    Thursday, October 7, 2010

    Typos in the Strangest Places

    Today's featured typo is one that I can't even believe I caught.  It is either evidence of my superb attention to detail or my need to get a life.  (I really don't want to know which it is; some questions are better left unanswered.)

    While watching the latest episode of "Undercovers" (which is a show I haven't been following for reasons I won't detail here), I saw this:

    Here's a close up of the typo in case you didn't catch it:

    The shot was on the screen for only a moment – three seconds, to be exact.  Most viewers were probably drawn to the photo of the handsome spy.  I noticed him, too, but for some reason I pounced on "Franfurt, Germany" like a cat on a mouse.

    Hey, what can I say?  You can't switch a gift like mine off and on.  <grin>

    Last week I almost posted about the "tendinitis" I saw in an article, but it turned out that "tendinitis" and "tendonitis" are both accepted spellings for that ailment.  (Who knew?)  So I did a quick online search for "Franfurt" to prevent a similar misstep.

    I didn't find any German town with that exact name.  If you know of an honest to goodness "Franfurt" (without a 'k'), please tell me and I'll let the NBC prop masters off the hook.

    Otherwise, I'm just going to snicker.

    Monday, October 4, 2010

    In Defiance of Proper Spelling

    I'm amused that I found the same typo twice in three days.

    From a posting to an online discussion group that I follow:

                "…I am defiantly returning…"

    And from an online story about insurance companies deploying privatized firefighting crews:

                "…(a spokesman) acknowledged that the policies are 'defiantly not cheap'…"

    In both cases the writers clearly meant to say "definitely."  I seriously doubt they were in a rebellious state of mind (although anything's possible).

    In both cases I nearly missed the errors.  When a written word has letters missing or is otherwise misspelled, your brain automatically tries to "fix" it. Many times you will end up seeing what the word is supposed to be in defiance of what is actually written.

    I hate it when that happens.

    Thursday, September 30, 2010

    Say What You Mean

    Our world contains billions upon billions of typos.  (All right, I haven't actually counted them, but I'll bet it's a close estimate.)  We (or most of us, anyway) know that leaving the second 'a' out of "manager" on your resume turns you into a "manger," which is a trough to hold hay and feed for livestock.  (Not quite the experience you wish to highlight.)  Accidentally changing a 'u' to an 'r' leaves you renovating your horse instead of your house.  And leaving that all-important 'l' out of "public" can lead to all sorts of unintended consequences.

    But there's more to communication than just spelling words correctly.  You have to be clear in conveying your message.  Whatever you're trying to say will be lost on the reader (or listener) if you muddle the message with extraneous words or awkward syntax.

    Here's an example from the web site of a local television station:

         "Police bust a man for making counterfeit cash late Wednesday evening"

    It's a pretty simple statement, right?  Take another look.  A literal-minded reader can read this sentence two ways:

         a)  A counterfeiter was arrested Wednesday night.  

         b)  A counterfeiter was making fake money late one Wednesday night and the cops caught him in the act.

    This particular story goes on to say the police arrested a man who had counterfeit cash in his possession, not while he was in the process of making the phony bills.  Which interpretation makes more sense now – a or b?

    A more accurate, but still slightly awkward, blurb might be:

         "Police bust a man late Wednesday evening for making counterfeit cash"

    Better yet is this headline from a competing news outlet:

         "Man arrested with shoebox full of counterfeit bills"

    Admittedly, there are better examples of unclear writing out there – this happens to be the one I found today.  But it does illustrate my point:  Muddled writing leads to muddled readers.

    And if a reader winds up too often confused about what he or she is reading, that reader will probably go somewhere else for news.

    That is the point.

    Tuesday, September 28, 2010

    First Impressions

    It's the 21st century.  We live in a world of text-speak and tweets, screen crawls and captions.  So what does it matter if a typo slips in now and then?

    Oh, believe me.  It does matter.  In the business world, professionalism is the norm, the standard.  Much as I'd like to unleash a tirade about the lack of overall professionalism exhibited by some employers in the current job market, this blog is not about that.  It's about things like unprofessional spelling errors and bad grammar that make a person look like an amateur.  

    Your resume is often the first thing a potential employer sees.  The adage "You only have one chance to make a good first impression" certainly applies here, but it's amazing how many people blow it.

    The following resume bloopers come from:

    “Career break in 1999 to renovate my horse” (Resume Hell)

    Hobbies: “enjoy cooking Chinese and Italians” (Resume Hell)

    “I’m intrested to here more about that. I’m working today in a furniture factory as a drawer” (Resume Hell)

    Objective: “career on the Information Supper Highway” (Ask Annie)

    Experience: “Stalking, shipping & receiving” (Ask Annie)

    “I am great with the pubic.” (Ask Annie)

    “bi-lingual in three languages” (Ask Annie’s)

    “Consistently tanked as top sales producer for new accounts.” (

    “Seeking a party-time position with potential for advancement.” (

    “Reason for leaving last job: maturity leave.” (Fortune Magazine)

    “Am a perfectionist and rarely if if ever forget details.” (Fortune Magazine)

    Languages: “Speak English and Spinach.” (Resumania)

    Experience: “Demonstrated ability in multi-tasting.” (Resumania)

    Additional skills: “I am a Notary Republic.” (Resumania)

    "I have no patience for sloppywork, carelessmistakes and theft of companytime.” (Resumania)

    Is it any wonder some people don't get hired?

    Friday, September 24, 2010

    You Think You're Having a Bad Day?

    Everyone makes mistakes.  The trick is to catch your mistake before anyone else sees it -- or before it appears on a billboard. 

    And before some eagle-eyed speller takes a picture of it and posts it on Facebook.

    And before the photo hits the national media circuit, landing your finger-fumble a forever spot on the World's Funniest Typos list.

    (Photo by Lee MacMillan via

    This billboard touting the greatness of schools in South Bend, Indiana caught national attention earlier this week after Lee MacMillan posted a photo of it on Facebook.  The Blue Water Group, a company that works for South Bend's redevelopment commission, claimed full responsibility (and embarrassment) for the typo.  Fortunately it was an easy fix -- this is one of those new digital billboards.  No paper or paste required.

    Speaking of corrections…

    The newspaper responsible for the cooper wire gaffe corrected the headline -- five and a half hours after it was posted -- and deleted comments relating to the typo.

    The cooper wire thief apparently is still at large.

    Wednesday, September 22, 2010

    Making Headlines

    Every now and then, I wonder just how many people even notice the spelling snafus and grammar gaffes that I see on a daily basis. 

    Occasionally I get an answer to that mostly rhetorical question.  

    This morning, while skimming the online home page of a local newspaper, I stumbled upon this beauty of a story link:

    "Weld Co. thief hauls off 600 feet of cooper wire"

    Now, it’s not uncommon for story lead-ins and links to contain typos that don't appear in the actual story, and I really expected that to be the case in this instance.

    Nope.  The bold, large-font headline said exactly the same thing:  cooper wire.

    Usually I don't bother to read the comments sections of online stories.  Half the time they're written by attention-starved people who don't have anything useful to contribute; the other half are spammers hawking everything from escort services to home business opportunities (oh, wait -- those might be the same thing).  

    But I had a hunch about this story's commenters, so after I finished giggling I scrolled down.

     "Yessir, that cooper wire. That's good wire."



    Interestingly, it appears that no one read the actual story -- or if they did, they simply didn't bother to comment on this less conspicuous typo in the second paragraph:

    "…The theft happened Frida between 6:30 and 7:40 p.m."

    That would be Friday -- you know, ending in 'y' like the rest of the days of the week.

    Is anyone reviewing these things before they're posted for all the world to see and laugh at?  Anyone?

    Sunday, September 19, 2010

    People Get Paid for This

    This comes from a local furniture outlet ad I spotted this summer. 

    Yep - people get paid for doing this kind of work.

    Friday, September 17, 2010

    They're Everywhere!

    Roses are red
    Copy editors are blue
    If you saw this many typos
    Wouldn't you be blue, too?

    Typos – they're everywhere!  I've noticed them for years, but now that I'm actively looking for them – wow!  It's like a grammatical pandemic out there. Grab a dictionary or your favorite style book and settle in for this week's highlights.

    From online articles about freelance writing written by freelance writers:

    "…give credit where it's do…"  [That should be "its" and "due".]

    "…Now it has me racking my brain…"  ["Wracking", not racking.]

    A teaser for an online story about the economy and real estate:

    "…had to take loan hopping to fix up house to sell it.  [The abbreviated wording of this teaser doesn't excuse "hopping" in place of "hoping".]

    From an online story about the recent wildfire in Boulder, Colorado:

    "…the roads leading up to where they live is still closed.  [Bad verb/noun agreement.  To the writer's credit, this was corrected in a later version of the story.]

    From an online story about suicides in the armed forces:

    "The U.S Marines, like other branches…  [How about a period after that 'S'?]

    Do you see the common thread?  Each of these was found online.  An insightful reader could infer one of two things: 

    a. The online world really, really needs proofreaders.
    b. I need to spend less time on the computer.

    The insightful reader would be correct on both accounts.  

    Tuesday, September 14, 2010

    Burning Clichés

    First, let me say that my heart goes out to those who have recently lost their homes in the Colorado wildfires.  Today's post is no way intended to trivialize the loss of one's home, or in the case of the California gas line explosion, the loss of homes and lives. As with any disaster, many people will be affected by these events for years to come.

    However, I must say that in the wake of the recent Colorado fires, the use of the cliché "burned to the ground" has reached epidemic proportions among news reporters.  I've lost count of the number of times I have heard or seen this phrase in the past two weeks alone.  Radio, television, print, Internet – it's insidious.

    I understand why:  News reporters need to engage and hold their viewers'/listeners'/readers' attention, and so they employ a little dramatic flair.  "Burned to the ground" describes total devastation using only four economical words.  Anyone who reads or hears these words knows exactly what the reporter is seeing:  Nothing left.  Leveled.  Flattened.  On the ground.

    But it's also become a very overused, very tired cliché.

    I propose that "burned to the ground" be sent to the cliché crematorium.  Let's challenge ourselves – and all reporters – to find new and creative (or even not-so-creative) ways to say the same thing.

    Let's not fall into the habit of relying on those four words to describe every fire scene, like a hapless television reporter I saw several years ago.  In trying to dramatize the coverage of a plain old grass fire that didn't involve any structures, she looked into the camera with a most serious expression and summed up the damage:

         "Five acres of grass burned to the ground."

    True story.

    Sunday, September 12, 2010

    It's So...Memorizing!

    Back in August, there were spectacular aurora borealis displays across the northern regions of our planet.  Thanks to the wonders of the Internet, those of us who live too far south were able to see some amazing photos of the northern lights.

    Or, as one commenter called them:


    It's "mesmerizing," folks.  Mesmerizing.

    The Internet is a truly wonderful and scary thing...

    Saturday, September 11, 2010

    How Seriously Can You Take a Writer...

    …when he/she makes mistakes like these?

    Here are a couple of excerpts from comments left by aspiring writers on the blogs of two different literary agents:

          …hoping with baited breath…

          …sales certainly don't bare out that fact…

    According to my handy dandy Webster's New World College Dictionary (4th Edition), the proper terms are:

          "with bated breath" – with the breath held in because of fear, excitement, etc.

          "bear out" – to show to be true; support or confirm

    Go ahead – argue that blog comments, like texts, Tweets and Facebook posts, are informal and people like me should just loosen that twist in their knickers and get a life.

    It will be a very short and one-sided argument, because I won't participate.  If I had that mindset, I wouldn't be writing this blog...

    Writers should always make the attempt to write correctly, no matter what medium they're using. A writer's art is the written word, so why not use every available opportunity to hone those precious word skills? If nothing else, good writing should be a matter of personal pride.

    Now, I don't know the writers behind these two examples of word choices gone bad. They could well be skilled grammarians who know the correct words and had a momentary brain cramp. Or perhaps they think they know the correct spellings of these idioms, but they really don't. The end result is the same: Readers get an unintended giggle out of the writer's error, and the writers – anonymous though they may be – lose credibility.

    And when a writer loses credibility, so does the message that he or she is trying to convey.

    Write true, write well – and always keep a dictionary close at hand.

    Wednesday, September 8, 2010

    Through, Threw - Does It Matter?

    If you can write while you have a headache that makes your head feel like it's the size of a Volkswagen, more super-powers to you! I don't get headaches often, but it's been a crazy past few days (a lot of that going around), the cranium is in full revolt, and right now writing is about as pleasant as doing a headstand on a cactus.

    Here, then, is a gem from my little nest egg of goofs and gaffes.

    From an August online article about a cooling glitch on the International Space Station:

         "… two space walks might be needed this week to replace a pump module that sends  ammonia threw the station's two cooling systems…"

    Last time I checked, ammonia should go through a cooling system. (You didn't know that? Good thing I keep a set of ISS schematics handy…)

    Obviously this is yet another instance of sound-alike substitution. It is also another argument for keeping copy editors on staff.

    And yes - using the correct word does matter.

    Tuesday, September 7, 2010

    Say What?

    "We have so much time and so little to see. Wait. Strike that. Reverse it." – Willy Wonka (portrayed by Gene Wilder), Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory

    Verbal flubs happen to even the most magically gifted people. Now, we've all had momentary outbreaks of brain-outpacing-mouth disease, or grasped for an elusive word and spouted something completely wrong (or possibly inappropriate). But you would think that news reporters and anchors, whose daily job is to speak on camera, would outgrow some of that.

    Well, perhaps that's the case at the national level where viewers rarely see an egregious verbal faux pas. Locally? Eh, not so much.

    Last night's coverage of the wildfire near Boulder, Colorado included this voice-over lead-in:

         "The fire is wrecking havoc…"


    I see two possibilities here. 1) The script correctly said "wreaking" and the reporter mispronounced it as "wrecking", or 2) The script was wrong and the reporter read it that way.

    Either way, "wreaking havoc" is not an uncommon cliché, and someone should have caught that before it went on air.

    Moments later in the same broadcast, in a segment about local firefighters' "Fill the Boot" campaign to raise money for the Muscular Dystrophy Association, the same reporter said:

         "Law enforcement officers have been asking motorists to donate money…"

    The video even showed firefighters (not police officers) standing on street corners and collecting money in firefighter boots.

    Um…wow.   I'm thinking this reporter needs to go back to school if she doesn't even know the difference between law enforcement and firefighting. See, police officers carry guns, and firefighters...oh, never mind.

    Friday, September 3, 2010

    A Blast from the Past

    A good friend read my blog posts this week and told me she thought I was being a little harsh, perhaps even overly critical.  She also wondered if I was setting myself up for dissection of my own errors by readers.

    Oh, believe me -- I'm dreading the inevitable moment when someone gleefully points out a mistake I made in a post!  At the same time, all is fair in love, war and wordplay.  Whatever I dish out, I must be prepared to take in return.

    And I will take my lumps like the mature, responsible adult that I am -- after I crawl out from my hiding place under the bed, dust bunnies clinging to my pajamas...

    My friends know that I do not profess to be an expert in anything, mostly because I believe we are all on a journey of constant learning.  I've learned a lot of things in my life (most of it useless in any venue except, perhaps, Jeopardy!); I certainly don't know everything.  Just so you know that I, too, make mistakes, here is an honest-to-goodness true story from my early corporate years.

    I was updating the sign-in procedures for a classified area.  The sentence should have read something like, "Upon entering the Closed Area, all visitors must sign in with the secretary."

    Due to a cut-and-paste error, I omitted all of the words between "entering" and "the secretary," so the sentence read, "Upon entering the secretary..."

    Embarrassing with a capital 'E'.

    Fortunately, my bosses had a sense of humor and found this hilarious. Unfortunately, they also had long memories and never let me live it down.

    This, Grasshopper, is how I learned about the hazards of cut-and-paste.

    Thursday, September 2, 2010

    Those Annoying Apostrophes

    Thank you to a certain local television station (that shall remain unidentified - for now) and its online stories for giving me not one, but four typos to share this morning!  Two involve those pesky apostrophes, one is a letter missed in haste, and one is just downright confusing.

    From a story about a robbery:

         "The suspects the ran..."

    How about, "...then ran..."?  Missing a letter is a common error, and usually caused by haste or sticky keys.  Not that I would know...

    Another robbery (sheesh, what was up in the Big City yesterday?) involved a shooting.  The reporter writes:

         "The suspects decision to shoot..."

    Here we have an apostrophe missing in action.  The suspect possesses the decision (for the sake of grammatical argument), so the sentence should read, "The suspect's decision..."

    Then there's a story about how hackers are embedding computer bugs in links within bogus e-mails.  This writer says:

         "Once inside your computer, virus' can scan documents..."

    There are instances in which apostrophes are used to denote a plural, but this is not one of them.  "Viruses."  Plural, not possessive.  End of discussion.

    Later in the article, the writer offers this advice:

         "Experts also recommend emailing your entire address book to know you've been hacked."


    This was probably an error caused by editing on the fly, or maybe a cut-and-paste gone wrong.  (Not that I would know anything about those, either.)  I'm thinking the writer intended to say something like, " let your contacts know you've been hacked."

    Just a guess...

    Wednesday, September 1, 2010

    Loose Versus Lose

    How ironic.  Now that I'm actively seeking out new typos as fodder for my blog, the world seems to have hired a stable of copy editors.  Have no fear -- I assure you this is a temporary situation.  The Blunder Brigade is still happily working away in the background.  I just have to dig a little deeper...

    Today I'll tackle my latest irritant:  people who use "loose" when they mean "lose."

    I see this error mostly in discussion group posts where formality isn't a concern.  What really disturbs me, though, is how many writers make this blunder.  In the cases of "eek" instead of "eke" or "shoot" rather than "chute", the words are pronounced the same and can get scrambled in the brain-hand-keyboard connection. (Not long ago, I went through a phase where every instance of their/there/they're I typed was the wrong one!)

    But "loose" (with a hard 's') and "lose" (with an 's' that sounds like a 'z')?  Not buying this one -- especially from writers who should know better!

    For the record, you lose your keys (or your mind).  You do not loose them.  (Well, technically you could, but in that context "loose" is more of an archaic term meaning to set something free.  Example:  "Loose the hounds!")

    So if you're one of the many who use "loose" when you mean "lose" -- please stop it.

    Tuesday, August 31, 2010

    Two for Tuesday

    Unless you've spent the last decade living in a cave on some remote Pacific island, you know how the Internet has transformed the way we receive information.  Freelance writers and content mills now generate a good portion of what we read online, and unfortunately, not all content is copyedited.

    I found this error in an online article about the oddities of this year's Colorado primary races:

         "If McInnis eeks out a win..."

    Considering some of the strange things that have come out of this year's campaigns, "eek" is certainly an appropriate comment.  But the writer, who is a journalism instructor, probably meant "eke" as in to eke out a living, a meager existence, or even a win.  Finger-fumbles happen to the most conscientious writers.  Too bad no one caught this blunder before it hit the web.

    Here's a bonus blooper.  Remember the JetBlue flight attendant who snapped and quit his job by using the plane's emergency exit?  According to the writer of this article:

         "The frustrated employee...deployed the plane's emergency-evacuation shoot and slid down to the tarmac..."

    I can almost - almost - forgive turning "eke" into "eek"; stuff happens when fingers start flying across the keyboard at deadline speed.  But "shoot" instead of "chute"?

    Is anyone besides the writer even looking at these articles before they're published?

    Apparently not.

    Monday, August 30, 2010

    Welcome to my blog!

    I wasn't born a spelling/punctuation/grammar enthusiast.  Even though I developed a love of reading at a very early age, English was my least favorite subject in school.  I hated diagramming sentences and trying to figure out the hidden meanings in classic literature--but I aced my spelling tests.

    Then I learned two foreign languages, and how the wrong inflection or spelling can get you in serious trouble with a native speaker.

    And I worked in a corporate environment where polished writing and speaking skills were mandatory.

    And then...I became a writer.

    I can no longer read anything without analyzing it, even when I try to shut off that part of my brain.  Misspellings and misplaced punctuation jump out at me all the time.  And the more society relies upon texts and tweets and info bites, the more mangled our language seems to become...

    Thus, a blog is born.

    Join me as I expose and explore grammar gaffes and fumbled keystrokes, scrambled words and wayward punctuation marks.  Some are amusing; some are downright pathetic.

    Some of them may even be my own.