Writing Tips by Gary Speer

Tips for writers, musing about writing and life

What are some English language errors that make you cringe?

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I have done professional writing and editing for several decades now. Yeah, makes me feel old, too, just thinking about it. My wife, who is a never-aging font of beauty — though two years older than I — has been a proofreader for just about as long as I’ve been a writer.

It makes both of us cringe when we see obvious typos in our local paper, or anywhere else for that matter. But mostly we notice the goofy mistakes in our local paper. We often have time to share some bagels and the paper for breakfast at a local coffee shop before she goes to work. Today, for instance, an editor at the local paper trimmed an Associated Press story regarding a recent murder down to a news brief. The editor then put a headline on the brief which used the word “safe” where the story used “unsafe.” The headline said exactly the opposite of what the story was saying. (Which is why most newspapers are quick to run corrections; I expect one tomorrow.)

We all make mistakes. It’s just that mistakes, typos, whatever, that make it into print become public and seem more embarrassing. It almost seems as though no one is proofreading their writing. Which, often, is the case.

Then there’s the ambiguity surrounding usage. Matters such as punctuation, capitalization, and even spelling can vary, or at least allow for many exceptions, in the English language. I recently saw a phrase describing some really beautiful, expensive furniture written this way: “tv lift cabinets.” I would insist that “TV” be capitalized. I’ve seen “T-shirt” used both that way and as “t-shirt” and I think even “Tshirt.” Certainly we have many good dictionaries and style manuals out there to resolve such issues, but sometimes they disagree, and sometimes a usage is so new that no one has formally addressed it.

How do you resolve such matters as spelling, punctuation, and other usage issues? What’s your favorite dictionary or style manual? For that matter, what are some of your favorite typos? Write a comment and share with us, please.
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