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?

Wednesday Words: It is Lite or Light?

You will never catch me pulling into the “Krazy Kat Kar Wash.”  I don’t care if my vehicle looks like it emerged from a mudslide or the only thing visible through my front windshield is the collection of insects amassed from a three-hour drive down a farm-to-market road.  I simply cannot endorse the new craze of misspelling everything in sight to get a potential customer’s attention.

I know, I know.  Grammar snob.

But I have wondered when this craze began.  At what point did we decide to forego spell check and purposefully alter signs to grab a second look.  In fact, when was “All You Can Eat Night?” replaced by “All U Can Eat Nite”?  When did “crazy” become “krazy” and us not think that’s crazy?

And how far will this trend extend?  Will I eventually pull up to the “Dryv Throo” at my local “Chikn & Freyes” restaurant?  Will it reach my doctor’s office, so that I am greeted by a sign saying, “Akcepting Nu Payshunts!”  Where’s the line?

For me, a business can get my attention by delivering a quality product, excellent customer service, word-of-mouth advertising, and people dressed up as your corporate mascot waving me down from the road curb (?).


Liberty Tax Service Mascot

But I would prefer that you leave the English language intact.  It’s already a hodge-podge of spellings lifted from other languages and years of evolution.  It doesn’t need further confusion.

What misspellings have you noticed?  Do they get your attention?  If so, is that attention positive or negative?  Are you more likely or less likely to frequent these businesses?

Wednesday Words: Should You Correct Friends?

My feet shuffle across the hard floor, as chairs creak and a cough echoes in the half-empty room.  I clear my throat, lean over to the microphone on its rickety stand, and announce:  “My name is Julie, and I am a correcta-holic.”  At least that’s what I confessed in my post about Obsessive-Correcting Disorder, although I don’t really think being a stickler for correct spelling, punctuation, and grammar is a disease that requires diagnosis or treatment.   Still, I can imagine that others may not want to send a note, shoot an email, or chat with me on Facebook after I have admitted to naturally noticing such errors.

Rest assured, however, that the grammar sticklers I know, including moi, are not mentally grading your work like an English teacher with a red pen.  (Do they still use red? I heard that injures self-esteem.)  There is a difference between published works and informal communication!

If I pick up a novel and notice ten errors in the first chapter, my thought is, “This was written and/or edited poorly.  This author and/or publisher did not care enough about the reader to clear up errors so that the book reads smoothly.”  (And I often toss the book aside like unidentifiable leftovers from my fridge.)  Advertising flyers, business signs, newsletters, and websites get the same level of merciless scrutiny.  These are professional publications that should be edited and proofread!

However, if I open my email inbox and someone has shot me a “Youre blog was terrific! Cant wait to read more posts!” I’m excited that they sat down and penned me a personal note!  If I notice the errors at all, I figure it’s because our lives are harried and they wrote in a hurry.

Now granted, if almost every Tweet, Facebook post, or email from someone is riddled with errors, I will figure that this person could use a remedial writing course; English is their fourth language; or they simply don’t care.  And it will unnerve me like an itch between my shoulder blades that I just can’t reach.  But when it comes to informal communication, a good rule is judge not, lest ye be judged!

I’ve read over things I sent out to a friend in a hurry and been appalled at an egregious misspelling or the absence of a crucial word.  My most recent ridiculous error was tweeting back to another author (Wendy Sparrow – check out her blog here) about how much I enjoyed reading Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss and typing, “Stickers unite!”  (Duh.  Sticklers.)  Thankfully, with friends, we fill in the gaps and determine the meaning nonetheless.   To err is human, to forgive divine!

I proofread my emails, blog posts, tweets, etc. because I consider those few seconds well spent.  But errors still spill through the cracks.  And if I corrected every informal message that I received, I would waste precious time that I could devote to more productive pursuits; stop receiving texts from my children; and be that itch between the shoulder blades that my friends and family just can’t reach.

You see, this is why I don’t think I have a problem that requires intervention.  (So my family can stop planning one, thank you very much.)  I can turn that correcting part of my brain off when it isn’t useful to the communication.

At least, most of the time.  Unfortunately (or fortunately, I think!), my husband and children are still subjected to my periodic correcting, regardless of context.  The rest of you are relatively safe.

What do you think about errors in professional publications vs. informal communication?  How do you approach it?

Round of Words in 80 Days Update:  1,038 of 5,000 words for the week; found serious timeline error in manuscript so pulling out hair and working that out; keeping up with three blogs at week (despite AT&T accidentally yanking my internet today).  All in all, progress!

Obsessive-Correcting Disorder

I stand in the local Hallmark store staring at the handmade sign above the card rack.  The words are written in black Sharpie pen – the same kind of pen I just happen to have in my purse.  The misspelling is egregious.  The clerks are busy with other customers.  I slip out the pen, glance around furtively, and then add the missing letter onto the sign.  Aaah!  A wave of relaxation passes over me.  Now, I can continue my shopping, knowing that I have benefitted the Hallmark company and all of the customers that will pass this display after me.  The world has been made right. 

You know you’re a grammar or punctuation stickler when you start pointing out printed errors to the staff of restaurants, stores, or other businesses.  When a poorly punctuated brochure or a conspicuous misspelling on a menu cry out to you for justice.  When you arrive at your friends’ home, view the welcome sign by her front door, and wonder if you should inform her that the “Smith’s” (possessive) do not live here, but the “Smiths” (plural) do.

But you know you’ve joined the ranks of the obsessive-compulsive when you begin correcting signs yourself!  My best friend was first to cross the line of idiosyncrasy when she revised a menu item written in chalk at a restaurant before being escorted to a table.  I was more secretive in that moment when I finally realized that I had been given a gift that must be used for the greater good, to right the wrongs of incorrect language usage.  And really, at some point, it is easier to do it yourself than to try to explain to the manager or another employee why the word should be “its” instead of “it’s” or how to spell “specialty.”

Needless to say, this can be embarrassing to any companions who are with you at the time.  Alright, alright . . . bowing to pressure, I will admit that it is not potentially embarrassing; it is downright shudder-inducing to your family and friends!  They may take several large steps away from you, deny that you are in their party, and ignore your repeated attempts to get their attention, even if those efforts include shouting, waving your arms like a chicken, or sobbing uncontrollably.

Still, you are right.  Stick to your guns.  It is appalling how many spelling and grammatical mistakes are tolerated in our otherwise high-achieving society!  The world needs your knowledge and candor to point out where it can improve!  To maintain the highest standards of communication for the dignity of all people!  To preserve the written word and carry it forward untarnished to the next generation!  You are on level with superheroes, world leaders, and religious icons in preserving the values for which we live!

Does society frown on the world-class swimmer who jumps in the pool to save a drowning child?  Do people look down upon the medically-trained citizen who performs the Heimlich maneuver on a choking diner?  Do others condemn the What Not to Wear hosts when they call attention to crimes against fashion?  Of course not!  Neither should they fail to recognize the benefit you bestow on mankind with your keen eye and willingness to act for the sake of rescuing the errant sentence or phrase!

Use the talent given to you.  But remember, “With great power comes great responsibility.”

And if you happen to notice any errors in this blog post, please inform me.  (But do so gently.  I may not take it very well.)