When Misspelling Compromises Our National Security

Welcome to Amazing Words Wednesday, the day we enter the labyrinth of language and see what we can find. Recently, I learned from author Piper Bayard what words might trigger the Department of Homeland Security to monitor our social media.

After reading such unusual choices as “cloud” and “delays,” I decided to click over to the original source Piper had listed. The DHS Security Analyst’s Desktop Binder includes terms one should watch out for, sorted by category. The categories include Domestic Security, HAZMAT & Nuclear, and Terrorism.

But one of them is Weather/Disaster/Emergency. And reading the list, I found a slight problem:

DHS words list

On one hand, no big deal. Plenty of people misspell lightning (no e).

However, I began to wonder: Is our national security compromised somehow by a spelling error? Might we mistakenly declare a disastrous weather event if perhaps several people start tweeting about how their lamps are effectively lightening their rooms? Could catastrophe occur because a DHS security analyst is spending his time searching for the term lightening and completely missing a slew of lightning that could cause real damage?

Okay, fine. I’m a little OCD on stuff like this.

But it did perplex me that the people who managed to spell such things as “National Biosurveillance Integration Center” and “Viral Hemorrhagic Fever” managed to get lightning wrong.

But that’s the way it goes. There are errors so commonly made that it’s hard to even see them or worry about them. I swear that I misspell perseverance 99 out of 100 times that I type it.

So my suggestion is that with such tricky words, we simply double-check. One certainly doesn’t want our national security compromised due to a spelling error! Of course, I doubt that you’ve got so much riding on your spelling. But hey, maybe you do! Who am I to say?!

Here are a few commonly confused words to look out for:

Affect (to influence; to change) vs. effect (the result of a change)

Complement (to complete or enhance) vs. compliment (an expression of esteem or affection)

Defuse (to make less harmful or tense) vs. diffuse (to spread out)

Desert (arid land with sparse vegetation) vs. dessert (dish usually served at the end of a meal)

Pour (to cause to flow in a stream) vs. pore (to read or study attentively)

Principal (most important or consequential) vs. principle (fundamental law, doctrine, or assumption)

Lightening (making clearer or lighter) vs. lightning (flash of light from discharge of atmospheric electricity)

Stationary (immobile, static) vs. stationery (materials for writing or typing)

What words do you struggle to spell correct? Or get confused with another word? Do you think our national security has been compromised by a spelling error?

Miss Spelling Returns: Words that Get Confused

Welcome to Amaze-ing Words Wednesday. By popular demand — or simply because she asked — Miss Spelling has returned. Her insistence on making a reappearance stemmed from a nonfiction book she is reviewing. While the book itself is written well, a different author wrote the foreword. Appallingly, however, said author of many books used the word forward instead to refer to her contribution. That settled it. Miss Spelling politely requested to come here and focus on words that get confused.

It’s my pleasure to return to the fine folks here at Ms. Glover’s blog. I adored the comments from A Lesson with Miss Spelling. I hope to shed some light today as well. I have collected pairs of words which get switched all too often like Parent Trap twins. They are not exchangeable, however. You likely have seen them misused as well.

Affect/effect. Simply put, affect is always a verb. In turn, the result (a noun) is the effect. For instance, seeing my muscular personal trainer shirtless affects my heart rate. The effect of seeing my muscular personal trainer shirtless is an elevated heart rate (and flushed cheeks and sweaty palms, but I digress).

Effect can also be used as a verb, but it is rare. It means to bring something to fruition, such as “he effected his plot to take over the world.” Most of the time, however, affect = verb, effect = noun.

Note: The views of Miss Spelling regarding shirtless personal trainers in no way represents this blog’s owner — who has no personal trainer and whose heart rate is affected by her wonderful husband of 19 years.

Capitol/Capital. The only capitol is the Washington, D.C. building in which the United States legislature congregates. Otherwise, it’s capital, as in the following: (1) the capital of Burkina Faso is Ouagadougou (wah-guh-doo-goo); (2) Ouagadougou is a name so it begins with a capital letter; (3) I have invested no capital in the country of Burkina Faso. Why is the U.S. Congress fond of confusing us with the different spelling? The name capitol hails from the ancient temple of Jupiter at Rome, and it stuck.

Compliment/Complement. To compliment someone is to flatter them by saying something kind and true or something ridiculous that will get you what you want. “How sweet of you to compliment my house! Of course I’ll sign your petition to protect the mosquito.” To complement is to balance, enhance, or complete. “Yes, Angelina, that right leg is a wonderful complement to your dress’s slit.”

Desert/Dessert. I’ll make this one easy: It’s Sahara vs. Soufflé. One would hope that when dining in a dirt-infested wasteland, one could have a French baked treat. However, these words are not usually seen together. A desert is to die in; a dessert is to die for.

Forward/Foreword. Forward is the direction you are facing. A foreword is the section of words before the main book. Thus, the foreword is several pages of a different author telling you why you should read the main author and what an amazing contribution his or her book is to you personally and to humanity as a whole for moving forward in life.

By the way, I understand that some bookstores will turn down carrying a book if they see foreword misspelled; they figure if you can’t get that right, you didn’t take enough care with the book generally.

Lightning/Lightening. This may take the cake as the most confused pair. I covered this in A Lesson with Miss Spelling. It bears repeating, or perhaps a visual instead.

Lightening (pic from josydoodle.blogspot.com)

Peaked/Piqued. If you have peaked in life, you have reached the pinnacle, the highest point you can achieve. Meanwhile, your interest may be piqued in what the heck you’re going to do now. I often see the statement, “That peaked my interest.” Does that mean your interest is hovering at the top of Everest?

Perhaps it will help to explain that pique means to arouse or excite. Having your interest piqued means your interest has been stirred up like a witch’s cauldron brew. Who knows what magical things could happen next?

Precede/Proceed. I am saddened to report that our own fine language lover, Ms. Glover, made this alarming error in her friend’s obituary. To precede is to go before, while to proceed is to go forward. By definition alone, they don’t seem so far apart. However, consider a procession, in which a parade of people proceed along. Thus, when Ms. Glover proofread the obit and saw that her friend had proceeded several family members, she should have corrected it to read preceded since her friend had died before the others. Instead, it sounded a funeral parade.

Now, now, Ms. Glover. No need to hang your head. You won’t make that mistake again. Moreover, your friend would have made a lovely Grand Marshal of any parade.

Principal/Principle. Consider this sentence: The principal problem with Congress is their lack of principles. While I believe the statement is true, more importantly it demonstrates the difference between principal, or primary, and principle, or ethic.

Principal McGee from Grease

Principal is also used as a noun to express this concept of the primary — such as when the money you pay on your loan goes in great part to the interest and in some part to the principal. Additionally, it refers to the warden of your local high school, as in Rydell’s Principal McGee. Meanwhile, principle refers to a guiding tenet, whether a moral one or, say, the principles of physics.

Now store all of your book under your seats and pull out one fresh sheet of paper and a pencil. It’s Pop Quiz time!

Just kidding. I’m sure you’ll all do wonderfully with these words in the real world. It has been my pleasure to be here once again. Ta-ta!

My thanks to Miss Spelling for helping us navigate the tricky world of spelling. Remember that natural ability to spell is not highly correlated to intelligence, but a complete disregard for checking your spelling is.

So which of these words give you trouble? Do you have other words spelled or pronounced almost the same which get switched in your mind?