Miss Spelling and Tricky Words

Today is Amazing Words Wednesday, the day we enter the labyrinth of language and see what we can find. As a matter of fact, I turned a corner and ran into my favorite vocabulary teacher, Miss Spelling. I convinced her to share another lesson with us regarding words that are commonly misspelled. Welcome back, Miss Spelling!

school-teacher-makeoverThanks for the invitation. Since I was last here, I’ve been researching some icky, sticky, tricky words. You know, those words that somehow stick in language as being spelled one way when in fact they are spelled a different way. What do I mean? I shall point a few examples today and help everyone learn the correct spellings.

Chomping champing at the bit. “Chomping at the bit” is not literally wrong because you can find reputable sources defending its usage. However, the original saying, and thus preferred spelling, is “champing at the bit.” Champing is biting or chewing noisily, so this phrase refers to a horse biting on the bit in its mouth, eager to go. If you are in conversation, chomping is probably fine. However, if you are writing this phrase into an essay or novel, go with champing.

Peaks piques interest. I have mentioned this word confusion before. However, it bears repeating because it is one of those mistakes that has been particularly sticky in common usage. Your interest may peak at some point–meaning it reaches its climax. But what one usually means with this phrase is that your interest has piqued–pique meaning to excite or to arouse.

For all intensive purposes intents and purposes. When said quickly, “intents and purposes” may sound much like “intensive purposes.” Surely, this was the impetus for the mix-up. However, the meaning of this phrase is for any and all reasons–described as “intents and purposes.” What exactly would an intensive purpose be anyway?

Heighth height. One might assume that if it’s length and width, then surely it must be heighth. No, indeed. There is no “h” in height. Toss out that extra letter, and punctuate that final “t.” Then you’ll have the correct word: “height.”

With baited bated breath. Unless you have placed a fishing lure on your oxygen supply, your breath is not baited. The word bate is not commonly used except with this idiom. Thus, many people assume that it is the more common word, bait. However, to bate means to restrain; thus, the phrase “with bated breath.”

That’s it today! A short class, and you all did beautifully!

Thanks, Miss Spelling! We’ll be sure to keep those icky, sticky, tricky words in mind.

Have you had trouble with these words or phrases? What words do have difficulty remembering how to spell?

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?

A Lesson with Miss Spelling

Ready, class?

Some time ago, my blog was visited by the well-known language arts teacher, Miss Pronunciation. She helped to clarify proper articulation of commonly mispronounced words, such as library and et cetera. I was recently contacted by her colleague, Miss Spelling, who wanted her turn on Amaze-ing Words Wednesday, to correct commonly misspelled words in the English language. Today I am happy to oblige. The floor is now yours, Miss Spelling.

February. Having read Ms. Glover’s lovely post on the origins of the names of the months, I know that February derives from the Roman festival of Februata. However, it is rather challenging to get that first r into the pronunciation, and before you know it, you’re writing “Febuary.”

Whether you are an Aquarius, a Pisces, or another zodiac sign with no relation to this month, it is important to learn this spelling. You might someday have an important event in the month of February — like a birthday, a wedding, an anniversary, or the apocalypse. Be ready to mark your calendar with the correct spelling. Example: “End of the World, February 16, 2031.”

Cemetery. The final e in this word has come to be pronounced by many with an a sound, thus causing us to incorrectly spell the word “cemetary.”

No, no, my friends. No self-respecting paranormal creature would settle for such nonsense. You will find your vampires, zombies, and ghosts in a cemetery. Remember, they may be dead, but good spelling isn’t!

Lightning. For heaven’s sake, do not tell me about bolts of “lightening”! There is no such thing. If you wish to lighten an area, turn on a lamp. However, if you are watching flashes of electricity trail across the sky, remember that it is “lightning” — two syllables, no e.

Thus, the Olympian Percy Jackson’s first quest is for The Lightning Thief. If instead he had chased the lightening thief, Percy might have merely found a poor schmuck who stole someone’s Yankee candle to add a little ambiance to a dark room.

Pic from http://www.ritzyreaders.com

Pastime. Doesn’t it seem that the two words “past” and “time” would make the compound word “pasttime”? For reasons I cannot explain, the t is simply unnecessary here. One t gets the job done. If anyone feels so inclined, they can make it their pastime to figure out why we dropped the additional t.

As for me, my pastimes include correcting such misspellings and shopping for various colored reading glasses to coordinate with my cheery wardrobe.

Privilege. Some wish to make this “priviledge.” Perhaps they believe that there is some “edge” to being privileged. I suppose there is. However, recent personal disasters of the rich and famous (Charlie Sheen, Kim Kardashian, Demi Moore) do make one wonder how much privilege one wants. Silver spoons and celebrity status aside, your command of the English language will help you to hob-nob with grace among the academically and socially privileged class. If only you could get the privilege of being invited to a party where said hob-nobbers will be.

Shepherd. How often you even use this word may depend on your proximity to goats and sheep. How often you write this word depends on . . . well, I don’t know. Yet I have written this word several times in my life, and often with prolonged head-scratching as to how to do so. It is not “shepard,” “shephard,” “shepperd,” or one of the other variations I have seen. Take “sheep” and “herd”; stick them together; remove the first e; done.

Now sheep are rather doltish creatures who wouldn’t know whether you could correctly spell “baa.” They are happy to have nurturing shepherds of any spelling ability. Yet, this shepherd, my friends, is leading any willing sheep into the fold of proper language.

Pic from http://www.partyamerica.com

Surprise. This is another case of saying a word improperly which leads to writing it incorrectly. Thus, too many have tried to spell “suprise.” Two r’s, please. If you throw a party and your invitations say “Suprise Party,” you will be surprised by how many invitees shake their heads with pity at your poor spelling.

Admittedly, if you add the words “open bar” to the invitation, you may still have a rather nice showing at your soiree. While we’re at it, make sure you serve “hors d’oeuvre,” not “orderves.” And no surprises there, please. All appetizers should be reasonably identifiable on sight. Asking your guests to nibble on pig’s eyes pate is bad form of another sort.

Every single word that ends with -ent or -ant. How many of you face words such as “dependent,” “redundant” or “malevolent” and find yourself asking a or e? You are not alone! This is tricky in English because there isn’t a simple rule like “a before e except after c.” It’s largely dependent on memorizing each word or writing it out and staring at the word to see if it looks familiar. Good luck!

Class dismissed.

Thanks for clarifying these problematic words in our English language, Miss Spelling. Of course, we all have our spelling weaknesses. For instance, I must rack my brain every time I spell “pharaoh” and “deodorant.” I can’t seem to memorize them once for all.

Miss Spelling would also like to remind everyone of the Spell Check function available in most computer software programs, including blogging sites. “Remember, students, Spell Check is your friend.”

Which words do you have trouble spelling? What other words do you see commonly misspelled?