Spellcheck can’t always help ewe

By Bill Mars

True story: I once spelled my name wrong in a byline for a story in my local newspaper. Well, that’s not entirely true – I did it more than once.

Talk about feeling (April) foolish.

“Hey, Marxie,” the grizzled copy editor bellowed at me from across the office. “Forget how to spell your name?”

I learned two lessons that day. First, never misspell your own name. And second, spellcheck everything, no matter the length.

But what happens if the mistake you made is also a real word? Take a look at my byline. My last name is Marx, not Mars. No spellcheck program is going to stop at Mars.

So, what’s a writer to do? First off, keep spellchecking. Regardless of which side of the coin you’re on as it relates to our reliance on technology, spellcheck is a valuable tool for writers.

Second, it helps to identify why we make mistakes. The main culprit is usually working too fast, which often leads to typing too quickly (and therefore missing/adding letters) as well as not taking the time to proofread afterward. Another common issue is simply not knowing the mistake.

Don’t rely only on spellcheck

We’ve discussed the latter in a previous blog, but here are 10 more oopsies – all seen by the CCS editors in the past year – spellcheck won’t help you find:

1. Diary instead of dairy

What exactly would be a diary alternative? A notepad?

2. Complimentary/complementary

Convenience is also a factor when guests choose to purchase from us, so we make sure complimentary sandwiches and snacks are available in the coffee bars. This is one example where if we meant complementary, our mistake might cost us money.

3. Desert instead of dessert

Unless we start placing an Avenue C or vending machines in the Sahara, it’s almost always going to be dessert.

4. Manger instead of manager

We see this a lot. It’s simply a case of people typing too fast … or thinking about Christmas when they should be thinking about work.

5. Technical shill instead of technical skill

See how close the H and K are on the keyboard? Sometimes that’s all it takes to fool spellchecker.

6. One/once

In addition to this slip of the keyboard, we also see things like on-on-one, one when it should be own, as well as an error with the homophone won. For such a short word, “one” causes a lot of trouble.

7. Complaint/compliant

This isn’t a complaint, but it shows up more than you’d think because a number of our proposals talk about equipment, apps, programs and services that need to be compliant.

8. Lead/led

This is also common because lead (like read) has two different pronunciations. But, also, the past tense of the verb lead (rhymes with speed) is led: I lead the team on Saturdays. John led the team yesterday. Or … Lead paint led the lead detective to consider the painter as a suspect.

9. Lesser/lessor

The English language has so many traps, and one is the er/or ending. For our usage, more than 99% of the time it’ll be lesser. Think lesser of two evils.

10. Country/county

One little letter, but it changes the meaning a lot. Same with other common errors like public/pubic and pantry/panty.

Check yourself before you wreck yourself

There are plenty others we see (are/our, you/your/you’re, insure/ensure, peek/peak/pique, lose/loose, chose/choose, weather/whether, sight/cite/site), so do yourself a favor and run spellcheck. Then, slow down and read over your work.

Because, in the end, do you really want to leave it in the hands of that Mars guy?


Don’t be sad. We’ll be back on the first Monday next month with a new blog post. If you can’t wait that long—whether because you have a topic you’d love us to cover, a question or you simply want to throw your two cents into the pot—we love talkin’ shop, so drop us a line.

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