What word is spelled wrong most often?

You know the answer to that old joke, right? It’s the word “wrong.”

A colleague of mine recently received a really lovely note from a potential business partner that read, “Looking forward to growing our bushiness together.”

Spelling errors are no joke in professional communications, but people make them all the time. I spend a lot of money as a customer of a local business and their recent email announcing new web content and new services had some obvious spelling errors, including the classic “principal” instead of “principle.”

Are we just too lazy to look up words? I’m not sure who bothers me more – people who have a sense they’ve spelled something incorrectly but don’t bother to check or people who don’t have even have a sense the word might be spelled wrong. Is there some fundamental spelling skill that people don’t ever acquire?

I started to wonder if Americans are terrible spellers or is it humanity in general? So I did a little research and contacted many of my friends who aren’t native Englsh speakers.

From a native Dutch speaker: “Spelling is actually not really a problem for me anymore, if anything my Dutch spelling is now worse than English….there are tons of tools available online or even within programs such as Word to help one out if errors are made due to ignorance or speed……however, grammar can be challenging at times.”

From a native Tamil speaker: “I do make a lot of spelling mistakes when I write in my native tongue. However that is because I rarely write in Tamil and so have less practice. Also, I think Tamil is inherently harder (as is Hindi). Let me explain, for e.g., there are 3 versions of the sound “n” and I am still not sure when I should be using which. English is also quirky with weird rules (i before e except after c and in weird words like “weird”), silent letters, homonyms and heteronyms (which I see you have blogged about). However, I would think this would give the native (albeit educated) speaker a leg up over non-native speakers…but I inherently think English is easier than my native tongue.”

From a native Spanish speaker: “Yes I do [make a lot of spelling mistakes]. However, now they tend to be of different nature than when I was leaving in Argentina. The keyboards that we use don’t have all the letters and tilde so over the year I typed words that “sounded” correctly in spanish but the spelling was wrong. Unfortunately, I noticed that now I make those same mistakes when I write with or without a computer.”

And my personal favorite response…

From a native Chinese speaker: “It is unlikely I will make “spelling” error when I write Chinese on paper. Chinese characters do not involve letters like western alphabets. Each Chinese character is unique itself and has its own meaning. Of course, sometime I do miss a stroke or dash here there, create my “new” non-existent character, or write a completely wrong word. All these mistakes usually cause by lack of practice and definitely not a “spelling” kind. For example last month, I forgot a character completely when I was filling out a questionnaire in Taiwan. I can pronounce this character without any problem. However the “sound” does not help me to assemble this character at all.

Then again, if “spelling” error can be described as “sound misrepresentation”. Perhaps Chinese computer user who use Zhuyin input methods (a popular sound base keyboard input system in the Taiwan) may commonly make “spelling “ error by selecting the wrong character that sound exact same as the correct one.”

So there you have it, spelling problems seem to plague people the world over, although in Chinese they face a completely different kind of spelling challenge. We rely on technology so much to catch and correct our spelling errors but language itself is too complex for any human or computer to be foolproof.

When I first put this website together, I was guilty of a pretty obvious spelling error. It’s ironic, and I may share it with you, if you ask nicely.

Ain’t isn’t OK

Is it ever ok to use the word ain’t?

As I was interviewing a professional wellness coach for a feature article, we both agreed it is a “hillbilly” word. We were sort of right, sort of wrong. In fact, the word ain’t is a “contraction of a negated auxiliary verb.” And while this contraction of a negated auxiliary verb is widely used by many people, including lots of my co-workers and some of my children’s childcare providers, it is still considered improper.

There are times when we seem to be ok with people using the word ain’t. We give people a pass only when we are sure they know better. Musicians love the punch provided by the word ain’t. Sheryl Crow croons “This ain’t no disco…” and Bob Dylan “ain’t gonna work on Maggie’s Farm no more.” Ain’t is almost never appropriate in formal business communications, but marketers and advertisers use it freely to grab attention and create memorable messaging. The use of ain’t in songs and advertising rarely lowers the perception of the artist or product, as long as the audience knows it is an intentional violation of proper English. Improper it may be, but it ain’t going away.

It’s when people use it and don’t know they shouldn’t, that they begin to look uneducated and potentially less reliable, their ideas less valuable. Hearing a co-worker use it while trying to express herself in a departmental meeting made me doubt anyone would take her point seriously. I always wondered if I should have mentioned that she used the word, and encouraged her to avoid it in very public situations like that. Small language mistakes can undermine the overall message and eventually hurt your professional communications and image.

So, follow your mother’s advice and think before you speak. And if you ain’t got nothing good to say, don’t say nothing at all.