Thursday, August 05, 2010


by Jessica

Some time ago I was horrified to note that I had inadvertently switched off the spell-check on my e-mail application, and after many attempts, still could not manage to turn in back on. I am a reasonably competent speller, but I’m an idiosyncratic typist at best, prompting properly instructed touch-typists around me to blanche when they see me at my keyboard. I can, however, type with one hand like nobody’s business—a skill developed from propping my head up during late-night editing sessions, and later holding my son (who believed in sleeping on people, not cribs) when he was an infant. I could, I realize, go back and learn to type properly, but I never quite have the time. Plus, I worry that I will suffer a similar fate as an acquaintance of mine, a man who logged in many hours with a golf pro to “unlearn” his poor technique, and promptly took his game to a new, and seemingly irreversible, low. My typing could not tolerate such a setback. I’d be corresponding via crayon.

In any event, I was in the midst of looking through the contents of my “sent folder,” cringing at the assorted errors I made—including spelling my own name Hessica—when I came across this article in Salon. The authors of The Great Typo Hunt traveled across the country, logging misspellings as they went, with delightful results. As we know, I hardly live in a glass house as far as mistakes are concerned, but that doesn’t reduce my pleasure in typo-spotting. “Affect” and “effect” are probably my favorite, followed by misplaced apostrophes, “it’s” and “its,” and “I” for “me,” all the classics. When I lived in Egypt (where as a functional illiterate in the local language I had zero right to judge) I was still delighted with the English language menus, signs, and packages—the latter imported from China—that were chock full of errors and weirdly wonderful turns of phrase. On a package for an action figure called “Bat Knight,” a shameless if not entirely successful clone of the Caped Crusader, the tag line read “Get Ready To Crumble Obscure!” There was a kind of found poetry in the phrase.

Any of you spot some memorable misuses of the language? Also, if anyone knows how to turn spell check in Outlook back on, I’d be grateful.


  1. Hi Hessica ;o)

    If you have Outlook 2003, make sure that "Always check spelling before sending" is checked. Find it and other spelling options by going to your inbox, then clicking Tools then Options. You'll find a "Spelling" tab along the top of the Options popup window.

    Hope that's the issue 'cause that's a simple fix, if so!

  2. As a technical editor, I've come across doozies. "Threatening and endangered species" instead of "threatened and endangered species" (is that a grizzly bear?). Some "pubic interest groups."

    And then there's the technical writers who are also closet creative writers. I had one writer who liked to throw in things to see if I'd catch them in tech edit. Instead of "rabbit bones were found in the fire-cracked hearth," he put that the hearth was used "to roast the hapless lagomorph."

  3. My sister used to live in Japan and she gave me a milk frother (looks like a french press but you pump it to froth milk. Yes, it's as weird as it sounds). One of the instructions on the packaging was to "make the milk warm up in microwave"

    I always imagined my mother standing over a gallon of milk, pointing a fickle finger down and screaming "You warm up or so help me god I will MAKE you!!!"

  4. Teachers have a permanent front-row seat in the theatre of mistakes. One of my favorites: "Ataturk was powerly and impotent man" -- which made me spill my coffee. I have a folder somewhere with hundreds, almost all of them just breathtakingly wonderful.

  5. If you want a good laugh at attempted English, go to

    Some of my favorites from personal experience were instructions on installing car headlights:

    "Do not stand naked in front of light or the eye will be burn."
    "If the or so light is not so bright at the same time or flicker may be because of power supply power famine."

    And my personal favorite (which I still can't figure out):
    For the safety of you and the life of the others safety , please the reasonable usage light!

  6. I live in the very French region in Canada, so I'm often corrected when I speak the local language. I'm fine with that, since I'll be the first one in line to help someone else with my maternal tongue. However, one irksome issue I have with living here is the misuse of English-isms.

    Phrases like "full-cool!" and "pissé" are often blurted out not just by the youth but even adults. They mean, respectively, "that's awesome!" or "pissed."

    Or another one, which as an anglophone I take offense to, is the word "fucké." Yeah, you saw that accent correctly. It has become a widely used verb up here for those silly francophones. It basically means screwed up, messed up, tired, stoned, etc. It's used in every day expressions.

    I've been here eleven years and I still can't get used to it.

  7. Aww, somebody already recommended, but I'll second it if you giggle at poorly translated English.

    I remember a restaurant in Hawaii called "Fook Yoo" or something along those lines. I was young then, so of course immature little me got a kick out of it.

    When it comes to (native) English speakers making mistakes, misplaced apostrophes always stand out to me, as do commonly confused words, like (as you said) affect/effect, bare/bear, etc. They're everywhere! I also often find myself accidentally typing semicolons instead of apostrophes, and frequently switching two letters in my first name.

  8. You may want to switch your email editor to Microsoft Word and switch on your spelling/grammar check. That should fix it.

  9. I used to collect grammar errors and misspellings. Then I became a newsletter editor and realized that sometimes no matter how hard you look, errors still seep in. That doesn't make proof reading worthless. I often have to reread entire sentences if the wrong "their/ there/ they're" is used.

    If you're using PC there's a great (free!) program called WordWeb Pro that's a lot like a dictionary. Except you have to notice your spelling looks wrong first because there's no red-line like Word uses.

    <>< Katie

  10. A substitute teacher once proclaimed to my entire fifth grade class, "'Shall be' ain't no word."

    The phrase is burned in my brain.

  11. N. Clifford Henderson6/8/10 7:52 AM

    As a college history professor, I get numerous mistakes on exams. At least once a semester I have someone writing about the king's thrown room. I also have students who use the wrong denomination: The Great Wall of China is 1400 feet long. My pet peeve is the mixing up of Calvary and Cavalry. Calvary has nothing to do with soldiers on horseback.

  12. I lived in Thailand for awhile. I spoke passable Thai and could read on perhaps a 2nd grade level, but could not write Thai script to save my life. However this did not stop me from enjoying their engrish. I collected envelopes w/ funny things written on them. Here are a few.

    Highly pleasing or enjoyable a lovely time someone who loves a specitied

    At some unspecified point of time. pernominal having been at one time former the sometime president.

    From far up, ringing from peak to peak of the summits over us, came a cry of such unatterable and ecstatic joy that it sounds down across the years.

    Stay in tough

    stamp hear

    Hello! What did you fun yesterday?

    Jessica, thanks for the great post.

  13. My favorite has always been from the menu "May I Take Your Order" on They seem to serve a lot of cowboy leg.

    I can figure what they're trying to sell on most of the other ones, but I just can't figure out what cowboy leg was supposed to be.

  14. I'm late reading this post, but there was a typo that made the news today. A construction worker misspelled school when painting a school zone in North Carolina.

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