Twenty Common Spelling and Usage Mistakes, Including Some Surprises

One of the most important lessons I have learned as a copy editor is that there are always more copyediting lessons to be learned. The Mashable article partially reproduced below includes a couple of new lessons for me. Entitled “20 Word Usage Mistakes Even Smart People Make,” it sets out many familiar mistakes, like “accept” vs. “except,” “effect” vs. “affect,” and “discreet” vs. “discrete.” Yes, I already knew about those.

But did you know that the term “just deserts” is supposed to be spelled like that, with only one “s” in the middle? Or that “fortuitous” does not mean “a lucky accident”? Check out the first five on the list, then click on the link that follows, to read the rest.

1. INVARIABLY

If something happens invariably, it always happens. To be invariable is to never vary. The word is sometimes used to mean frequently, which has more leeway.

2. COMPRISE/COMPOSE

A whole comprises its parts. The alphabet comprises 26 letters. The U.S. comprises 50 states. But people tend to say is comprised of when they mean comprise. If your instinct is to use the is … of version, then substitute composed. The whole is composed of its parts.

3. FREE REIN

The words rein and reign are commonly confused. Reign is a period of power or authority—kings and queens reign—and a good way to remember it is to note that the g relates it to royal words like regent and regal. A rein is a strap used to control a horse. The confusion comes in when the control of a horse is used as a metaphor for limits on power or authority. Free rein comes from such a metaphor. If you have free rein you can do what you want because no one is tightening the reins.

4. JUST DESERTS

There is only one s in the desert of just deserts. It is not the dessert of after-dinner treats nor the dry and sandy desert. It comes from an old noun form of the verb deserve. A desert is a thing which is deserved.

5. TORTUOUS/TORTUROUS

Tortuous is not the same as torturous. Something that is tortuous has many twists and turns, like a winding road or a complicated argument. It’s just a description. It makes no judgment on what the experience of following that road or argument is like. Torturous, on the other hand, is a harsh judgment—“It was torture!”

Click here to read the rest. Be forewarned, however, that number 19 inadvertently includes a common mistake of its own, which, in all honesty, makes me feel a little better about those that I didn’t know. And for another look at “i.e.” vs. “eg.,” click here.

The Best Way Ever on the Planet to Remember That "Alot" is Not a Word

Have you ever seen alot written as one word? I don’t mean allot, similar to allocate. I mean alot, one word, instead of a lot, two words, meaning quite a bit. Just in case you weren’t certain, alot isn’t a real word. Don’t be surprised if you thought otherwise; it shows up, well, a lot, especially in the less formal, quickly typed, and unfortunately chock-full-o-mistakes Land of Social Media.

Ever since I saw the post that I’ve excerpted below, however, I’m always hopeful that I’ll see alot somewhere, just so that I can remember Allie Brosh’s description of alot in her post, “The Alot is Better Than You at Everything” on her blog, Hyperbole and a Half. It made me laugh more than anything else I’ve seen in months. Enjoy:

There is one grammatical mistake that I particularly enjoy encountering. It has become almost fun for me to come across people who take the phrase “a lot” and condense it down into one word, because when someone says “alot,” this is what I imagine:

alot
The Alot is an imaginary creature that I made up to help me deal with my compulsive need to correct other people’s grammar. It kind of looks like a cross between a bear, a yak and a pug, and it has provided hours of entertainment for me in a situation where I’d normally be left feeling angry and disillusioned with the world.

For example, when I read the sentence “I care about this alot,” this is what I imagine:

i-care-about-this-alot

Click here to read the whole post. Really. Do it. I adore it. I love it so much that I bought the I Care About This Alot T-shirt. I love it so much that I bought the Hyperbole and a Half book, and “Alot” isn’t even in that book. That is how much I love that post. I really love that Alot.

Learn the Difference Between i.e. and e.g., and a Little About Bigfoot

For me, copy editing is a lot of fun, very much like working on a puzzle, e.g., a jigsaw puzzle, a crossword puzzle, or a word search. If you think that it might have been better to use i.e. instead of e.g. in the preceding sentence, please allow me to introduce you to a particularly entertaining way to learn the difference between the two. If you already are quite comfortable with how to use i.e. and e.g., check this out anyway, because it’s hilarious.

Click on either frame below to get the full lesson. Thanks, The Oatmeal!

oatmeal-ie

oatmeal-ie-bigfoot

Come back again later to learn about a lot vs. alot.

With Thanks to Weird Al, This is Why You Need an Editor

This Weird Al video is hilarious, but please know that I do not endorse his insults towards those who make writing mistakes. I am not the grammar police, even when you hire me. I’m more of a grammar counselor; my red pen is gentle. Nevertheless, if this video encourages people to see that copy editors are here to help, then thank you, Weird Al: