commonly misspelled words

 

 

 

Commonly Misspelled Words

 

 

Here’s a list of words commonly misspelled in English. If a writer acquaints himself with them, the writer can avoid a lot of spelling mistakes.
— compiled and posted by Roger W. Smith

   January 2019

 

 

 

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battalion

ecstasy

misprint

misspell

accommodate

parishioner

belligerent

indispensable

modify

stupefy

liquefy

torrify / torrefy (to dry or roast with fire)

indemnify

medicine

impassable (however, “impassible,” with the seldom used meaning of impassive, is correct)

liaison

occurrence

guttural

incidentally

plebean

millennium

anoint

disappoint

chaise longue (plural: chaise longues … from French for “long chair”; it is universally mispronounced as “chaise lounge”)

colonnade

antediluvian

canister

banister or bannister

bulrushes

callus (noun) … callous (adjective)

mucus (noun; something in the throat) … mucous (adjective, as in “mucous membrane”)

Camellia (type of shrub)

Pharaoh (generally capitalized)

vise (tool)

vice (e.g., gambling)

vilify

vermilion

vacilate

strategy

stratagem

pollinate (but: pollen)

petrify

putrefy

propellant

straitjacket (not strait jacket)

strait-laced

tonsillitis

transcendent

wield

vocal chord

accordion / accordeon / accordian (variant spellings)

abscess

privilege

extrovert (popular spelling) … extravert (used in technical writing, such as psychiatric, scientific)

Chaldean / Chaldaean (variant spellings)

Tennesseean

Galilean (as in Jesus of Galilee)

queue (but note: barbecue)

affidavit

tumultuous

Portuguese

kimono

insidious

piteous

inoculate

innocuous

supersede (There are only three words in the English language that end in –ceed: proceed, succeed, exceed. Many English words end in -cede: e.g., accede, recede, secede, intercede … supersede is the only one that ends in –sede; from Latin roots meaning sit above.)

spoliation (not spoilation)

mortgager

peaceable

cataloger / (or) cataloguer

transferable (an exception to a general rule about doubling of consonants)

forcible

enforceable

linage (the number of lines in printed matter)

lineage (descent)

likable

salable

aging

bluish

shoeing (as in shoeing a horse)

singeing (as in to singe)

mileage

sizable

dying (death)

dyeing (altering color)

canceled

cancellation

benefited

befitted

lamppost

reoccurrence

memento (a souvenir)

handicapped

kidnapped (preferred form; kidnaped also acceptable)

corralled

mosaicking

picnicking

arcing (the formation of an electric arc)

acknowledgment

light-complexioned

center (British spelling: centre)

theater (unless, in the case of the proper noun, a particular theater spells it Theatre)

timber (i.e., lumber)

timbre (musical pitch)

practice (the noun practise is a British spelling)

prophesy (verb) … prophecy (noun)

sieve

weird

weir (a damn across a river)

ceiling

privilege

stubbornness

newsstand

allotment

allotted

ambiance

gallowses (plural of galluses: the word for suspenders)

summonses

boss’s

desiccate

dioceses

aide-de-camp

auto-da-fé (there is an acute accent over the final “e”; means act of faith)

omnivorous

carnivorous

idiosyncrasy

hypocrisy

exorbitant

exhausted

exuberant

exhilaration

excerpt

foreword (say, in a book)

forebear (noun; an ancestor)

forbear (verb)

genealogy

minuscule

harass

sacrilegious

suddenness

forgiveness

aggressive

founder (means to sink; e.g., a ship hitting a rock)

flounder (to struggle, to stumble around)

octopuses

alibis

alkalies

mangooses

apparatuses

bicepses

stupefy

rarefy

liquefy

torrent

putrefy

a superb craftsman (Jim Dwyer)

 

 

 

Jim Dwyer is a Pulitzer Prize winning reporter and columnist for The New York Times. When I was an intern and freelance reporter at New York Newsday, Dwyer was writing an “In the Subways” column for the paper, which made him popular.

This post regards Dwyer’s op-ed piece:

 

“The Transcendent Incompetence of the L Train Fiasco”

The New York Times

January 12, 2019

 

 

I have always felt that Dwyer is a very good writer, and this piece demonstrates why. It seems to be true of all good writers — Dwyer is no exception — that they never write a weak or inferior piece.

 

 

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My analysis.

Dwyer starts off with a clever lead which enables him to arouse reader interest, and to say something provocative and original. What the reader would not be anticipating. It’s true in writing as in music: Surprise, taken in the broadest sense of the word, can often show ingenuity and arouse interest. But novelty (an unexpected idea or fact thrown into a piece to startle or amuse the reader) will not necessary work by itself. It depends.

The lead:

In a famous medical study, two doctors traced a chain of errors that brought the wrong patient, a “Mrs. Morris,” to an operating room for an invasive heart procedure that she did not want, did not need and that no one had actually ordered for her.

It turned out that 17 separate mistakes were made before anyone realized that the wrong woman was on the table. Thankfully, Mrs. Morris was not harmed. The doctors said it was an “organizational accident,” meaning that one person could not have done it alone. Sticking tubes into the wrong person’s heart required mess-ups by many people.

One day, Mrs. Morris may be joined in the great case studies of near blunders by New York’s L train fiasco. This one took a team of people, too.

So, Dwyer takes the reader by a commodius vicus of recirculation to the here and now. In January, “Gov. Andrew Cuomo made the startling announcement that New York City’s L subway line, whose East River tunnel was damaged by Hurricane Sandy in 2012, could remain in service while fixes were carried out.”

To New Yorkers like myself who use the L train, this was indeed welcome news, a major development.

Then, Dwyer gives the reader needed context and background: “In April [2019], the line was to stop serving Manhattan for 15 months so the repairs could be made in the river tunnel. Its users had spent two years planning alternative routes and, in some cases, finding new places to live. They are just a fraction of the city’s subway riders, up to 300,000 people a day. But that’s more than the ridership of most mass transit systems in the country.”

He goes on to demonstrate, convincingly, why shutting down the L line for over a year was not necessary. Engineers who have been recently consulted have concluded this.

An important part of a freshman composition course is learning how to make transitions. Many writers, including experienced ones, do this heavy handedly and awkwardly. Dwyer continues:

Which leads us to the next question: [italics added] If the planned new repairs would be as safe and durable without requiring closing the line, why didn’t anyone think of them before? Shouldn’t someone downstream of the governor have thought to bring in outside experts for a fresh look, given the disruptive stakes?”

A seamless transition. Such transitions are most effective when the piece itself is coherent. Where the inner logic and the flow of ideas are apparent and, therefore, easy to follow.

With regard to the next paragraph:

Some people are skeptical about this new plan, in fact, precisely because it was driven by Governor Cuomo. That’s good. Without skepticism, society collapses. But this entire episode illustrates a failure to be skeptical. And it shows us the risks of ignoring what it means to fail, at scale, in a booming city that grows every month. It didn’t have to be the governor asking for a better way. But no one else did.

This paragraph shows one of Dwyer’s key strengths, and illustrates an important principle lost on many academics. Good writing mixes the pithy — fact based, anecdotal writing — with generalities. By generalities, I do not mean vague ones, or truisms. I mean that the writer is always trying to draw out the implications — the inferences — of what he or she is saying. Constantly moving back and forth, so to speak, between providing information to the reader (as well as context) — in the form of facts, anecdotes, data — and teasing out the implications of what they all mean, making sense out of the “facts” (in fictional detective Sergeant Joe Friday’s memorable words). Or, to put it another way, is balancing the factual and informational with explication. Example: Theodore Dreiser grew up in a family where German was often spoken at home. As a writer, he always struggled with the basics of written English. He has often been said to be an awful writer stylistically.

Dwyer goes on the explain the intricate managerial and organizational structure of the subway system, a bureaucratic tangle. He concludes by saying that “The price of all these people being in charge is that no one owns the work.” A sentence which nails the whole point and thrust of the piece down.

He then goes on to say:

In all walks of life — engineering, politics, transportation — there is a fine line between the earned wisdom of experience and the toxic self-regard of a credentialed rut. (That goes for journalism, too. For most of the time the L train shutdown was in the air, I was writing a column in the New York section of The Times. No one stopped me from asking questions. I just didn’t.)

Pedestrian writing? I don’t think so. In the work of a master craftsman, there is much to admire. The first sentence of the above paragraph is a brilliant one. It says so much simply. It gets the reader to think. It suggests a new and propitious way of looking at things. His parenthetical admission that “No one stopped me from asking questions. I just didn’t.” shows humility and self-awareness. By including himself among others (e.g., administrators and politicians) who should have questioned the need for an L train shutdown, he actually strengthens the points he is trying to make.

His concluding paragraph is brilliant:

Mrs. Morris landed on an operating table for a procedure that she didn’t want or need, and that no one had ordered for her. New York City wound up being prepped for a different kind of surgery that it surely did not want or need. This organizational accident took a lot more than 17 errors.

 

 

— Roger W, Smith

   January 13, 2019

J-school students, give heed!

 

 

Yes, I’m a J-school grad. M.A., Journalism, New York University, 1988.

All journalism students are taught, first and foremost, the importance of the LEAD.

Here’s a stupendous one:

Without it, if you are a New Yorker of a certain age, chances are you would have never found your first apartment. Never discovered your favorite punk band, spouted your first post-Structuralist literary jargon, bought that unfortunate futon sofa, discovered Sam Shepard or charted the perfidies of New York’s elected officials. Never made your own hummus or known exactly what the performance artist Karen Finley did with yams that caused such an uproar over at the National Endowment for the Arts.

The Village Voice, the left-leaning independent weekly New York City newspaper, announced on Tuesday that it will end print publication. The exact date of the last print edition has not yet been finalized, according to a spokeswoman.

 

— “After 62 Years and Many Battles, Village Voice Will End Print Publication.” By John Leland and Sarah Maslin Nir, The New York Times, August 22, 2017

 

 

— posted by Roger W. Smith

   August 2017

the only style manual you will ever need (if you can manage to find a copy)

 

 

 

Words into Type

Third Edition, Completely Revised

by Marjorie E. Skillin and Robert M. Gay

Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1974

 

 

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This book is a must if you are a writer or care about style and grammar.

It is far superior to The Chicago Manual of Style and much easier to use.

It is superbly organized with a fabulous index which makes everything super easy to find. Say, you want to know whether or not to italicize the name of a ship, of the name of a TV series. Just look in the index under “ships” or “TV,” and you will find the page immediately.

This is an indispensable book that has never been superseded. As a writer and former copy editor. I can’t imagine being without it.

 
— Roger W. Smith

   January 2019

 

 
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Addendum:

 

I just looked up Words into Type on amazon.com. The book is out of print. Subsequent to publication of the edition mentioned above, which I purchased, the book seems to have been reissued in paperback.

Believe me, this is a must have book for a writer who needs a copyeditor in the form of a reference book ever reliably at hand. It is clear and comprehensive, and seems to address every sort of niggling question about capitalization, italicization, punctuation, and the like a writer might have. As I stated above, the index is superb. You can find anything you want within a matter of seconds.

 

 

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the ABUSE of bad words

 

 

Pee. Shit. Fart. Fuck.

I recently went to a doctor for a checkup. He asked me how frequently I urinated. He cautioned me: “Don’t drink water in the evening and before you go to bed. If you don’t drink water, you won’t wake up so often during the night because you need to pee.”

He’s a professional. An MD. Couldn’t he have said urinate?

I used to see a therapist who was from an older generation. He was careful about language. He was a writer of books and articles about Charles Darwin. He wrote a book about Darwin’s medical history and an illness the latter suffered from for most of his life that was never diagnosed and may have been psychosomatic. He noted that Darwin often suffered from flatulence. That was the right word to use for the context.

 

 

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Now we have the “pee tape.”

As discussed in an op-ed piece in yesterday’s New York Times.

 

“Lordy, Is There a Tape?”

By Michelle Goldberg

Op-Ed

The New York Times

April 16, 2018

 

Whatever you think of the former F.B.I. director James Comey, he has started a long overdue national conversation about whether the pee tape is real.

“I don’t know whether the current president of the United States was with prostitutes peeing on each other in Moscow in 2013,” Comey said in his hotly anticipated interview with George Stephanopoulos on Sunday night. “It’s possible, but I don’t know.”

Comey was referring, of course, to a claim in the dossier about Donald Trump’s ties to Russia compiled by the British ex-spy Christopher Steele. While in Moscow for the Miss Universe pageant in 2013, Trump reserved the Ritz-Carlton’s presidential suite, where Barack and Michelle Obama had stayed previously. Citing multiple anonymous sources, Steele reported that Trump had prostitutes defile the bed where the Obamas slept by urinating on it, and that the Kremlin had recordings. …

Like Comey, none of us know what really happened at the Ritz-Carlton in Moscow, and we may never find out. As outlandish as the rumor is, however, the idea that Trump would shy away from good press out of principle is far more so. To seriously discuss this presidency, you have to open your mind to the truly obscene.

And so on.

 

 

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The whole discussion makes me feel uncomfortable. I am not interested in what happened in a hotel room in Moscow.

So does the use of words such as pee in connection with the President or, generally, in formal discourse.

The pungent Anglo-Saxon words we have in our language are an essential part of it. In private conversation, in situations that call for explicitness or frankness, sometimes (if not often) in literature, occasionally in public, such words are not inappropriate and are called for. They certainly shouldn’t be banned, any more than one should, say, try to pretend that parts of the human body do not exist. (Such non-evasiveness was steadfastly maintained by Walt Whitman over a century and a half ago.)

Such words can be effective in private or in public when used sometimes for emphasis or shock value. They can liven up a conversation. (At other times, they can deaden it.) Using pee or shit, say, in conversation where there is a familiar relationship already and politeness or restraint is not required; using fuck for emphasis at times. Salty sailor’s talk is not necessarily out of bounds.

But such words often become overused, or are used inappropriately in public or in the wrong contexts and situations when they are more likely than not to cause embarrassment or discomfort, and where a more polite (usually Latinate) alternative exists. And, their overuse can cheapen discourse, or deaden the impact of a potentially powerful word such as fuck, which one sometimes hears repeated over and over again to the point where it becomes annoying to the ear, just as a too loud, monotonous, second rate rock band can.

And some words — such as fart — can sometimes make you squirm, make one feel downright uncomfortable.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   April 18, 2018

a nutty op-ed

 

 

I could not help but think of my recent post

 

“After Racist Rage, Statues Fall”

“After Racist Rage, Statues Fall”

 

when I read an op-ed piece by Gail Collins in today’s New York Times:

 

“Dogs, Saints and Columbus Day”

The New York Times, October 6, 2017

 

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It has taken me a while to realize it — I kind of liked her op-ed pieces at first (while never being that impressed by them or struck by her thoughts) — that Gail Collins is a weak writer. As this piece shows, a very poor writer.

She begins the piece with Christopher Columbus, specifically the statues of him across the country to which protestors object and which some have been desecrating.

After a digression, she writes that Christopher Columbus, whom she is writing about because it will be Columbus Day on Monday, has been “been on a slide for a long time” (an awkward phrase), has been reevaluated as not having achieved such great feats as an explorer as he had been said to and criticized and/or vilified for having perpetrated atrocities on native peoples.

She then gets to her key point, which every op-ed piece must have: “Our current statue obsession began, naturally, with Donald Trump, who claimed that if people start to remove monuments to Robert E. Lee, the next thing you know, they’ll be eliminating George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, since they were both slave owners.”

“This is obviously nuts,” Ms. Collins writes.

It is not “obliviously nuts,” despite the fact that Donald Trump said it.

Is she trying to emulate General Anthony Clement McAuliffe, who in 1944, responding to an ultimatum that he surrender to German forces, replied as follows: “To the German Commander. / NUTS!”?

Such an abrupt, peremptory dismissal by Ms. Collins — which she feels entitled to make in such a fashion because she assumes none of her readers would take anything said by Donald Trump seriously — of a sound point that requires thoughtful rebuttal proves nothing other than Ms. Collins’s weakness as a thinker who cannot go beneath the surface, and her flaws as a writer.

She goes on to say:

Robert E. Lee was perhaps a nice man and a good general. But his point was winning a war that would have divided the United States for the purpose of preserving slavery.

You judge historical figures by their main point [italics added], because if you demanded perfection on the details you’d have nobody left but the actual saints. … The point of George Washington’s career was American independence. Thomas Jefferson’s was the Declaration of Independence. I say that even though I have never been a huge fan of Jefferson, who was possibly the worst male chauvinist in Founding Fatherdom. [Note that she has to make the point about Jefferson being a male chauvinist to satisfy her readers that she is criticism-proof correct politically.]

The point of Christopher Columbus was exploration. Although people knew the world was round, they had no idea how long it might take to get around it. Columbus’s goal was to try to make it to the other side of the planet. He sailed out into the great unknown and brought back word of his discoveries.

And so on.

This is very weak thinking.

 

 

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Since when was it decided that one should “judge historical figures by their main point”? What does this mean, either as a guiding principle or in practice? How would it work? Since when do individual persons — historical figures, leaders in the present, and everyday people — amount to a POINT. A controlling idea? Since when could they be summed up that way, given the actual complexity of human personality, human motivations, and human actions?

What was Lyndon Johnson’s “main point”? (The Great Society or the Vietnam War?) Or Richard Nixon’s “main point”? What was George W. Bush’s?

What was JFK’s main point? The New Frontier? What was that anyway? It’s awfully vague.

This is simplistic, fuzzy thinking of the worst sort. It’s an attempt at dissimulation by which the “good guys” in history can be gotten off the hook for doing “bad” things such as racism or owning slaves, while the “bad guys” are still held accountable.

 

 

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A final thought. Ms. Collins says: “Our current statue obsession began, naturally, with Donald Trump [italics added], who claimed that if people start to remove monuments to Robert E. Lee, the next thing you know, they’ll be eliminating George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. …”

This is totally inaccurate, and I find it hard to fathom how she could be so misinformed as to make such a claim. The controversy over historical monuments dedicated to and buildings named after Confederate heroes, slaveholders, and other historical figures considered racist has been going on since long before President Trump’s statements about the Charlottesville violence, which were made in August of this year.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   October 7, 2017

 

 

 

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Addendum:

 

I am working on a new blog about writing examined from all angles. I have found that, in trying to ascertain what the elements or good writing are, it helps to occasionally look at bad writing. Ms. Collins’s article is an example of bad writing that is founded on a weak premise and is jerry-built. This kind of writing seems to be the product of a writer wanting to have something to say and be clever, but writing hastily or flippantly without serious reflection or doing any preparation.

jargon (aka mumbo jumbo)

 

 

An element of a shared symbolic system which serves as a criterion or standard for selection among the alternatives orientation which are intrinsically open in a situation may be called a value …. But from this motivational orientation aspect of the totality of action it is, in view of the role of symbolic systems, necessary to distinguish a value-orientation” aspect. This aspect concerns, not the meaning of the expected state of affairs to the actor in terms of his gratification-deprivation balance but the content of the selective standards themselves. The concept of value-orientations in this sense is thus the logical device for formulating one central aspect of the articulation of cultural traditions into the action system.

It follows from the derivation of normative orientation and the role of values in action as stated above, that all values involve what may be called a social reference …. It is inherent in an action system that action is, to use one phrase, “normatively oriented.” This follows, as was shown, from the concept of expectations and its place in action theory, especially in the “active” phase in which the actor pursues goals. Expectations then, in combination with the “double contingency” of the process of interaction as it has been called, create a crucially imperative problem of order. Two aspects of this problem of order may in turn be distinguished, order in the symbolic systems which make communication possible, and order in the mutuality of motivational orientation to the normative aspect of expectations, the ‘Hobbesian’ problem of order.

The problem of order, and thus of the nature of the integration of stable systems of social interaction, that is, of social structure, thus focuses on the integration of the motivation of actors with the normative cultural standards which integrate the action system, in our context interpersonally. These standards are, in the terms used in the preceding chapter, patterns of value-orientation, and as such are a particularly crucial part of the cultural tradition of the social system.

 

— Talcott Parsons, The Social System

 

 

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The sociologist C. Wright Mills “translated” the above passage into jargon free English, as follows:

 

People often share standards and expect another to stick to them. In so far as they do so, their society may be orderly.

— C. Wright Mills, The Sociological Imagination

 

Thus, reducing the length of the passage from 331 words (per Parsons) to 23 words (in Mills’s “translation”).

 

 

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The quotations/examples are included in Style: An Anti-Textbook by Richard A. Lanham.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   December 2017