Funny Little Language Things

From Flickr, user Digital_Rampage. Used under CC Attribution license. Wiseguys.

Lately, I’ve been encountering a ton of spelling errors.  I don’t know if it’s that the people who learned how to spell before spellcheck have mostly retired, or if it’s something else, but I am generally more amused than annoyed about errors like these.  I have a pretty good memory and I’ve done a lot of reading in my life, plus, have an overfondness for the Dictionary, which is how I’m able to spot them, and certainly I am imperfect at this…

I love the thrill of learning new stuff about words, though.  I can’t wait until I learn how to access Wilkes’s subscription to the OED from home.  Oh, the perks of being a student.

Here are some of my favorite mixups from manuscripts (with pictures):

From Flickr user julia-koefender

Hairsbreadth:  Yes, the breadth of a hair.  One word according to Merriam Webster’s, and here’s a touch of etymology. Here’s how I’ve seen it: Hare’s breath, hairsbreath, hare’s breadth, etc.

The jig’s up:  A jig is a dance.  When the jig’s up, reality checks are imminent.  One of the

From Flickr user ibm4318

funniest spelling errors I see is “the gig’s up.”  According to M-W a gig is only a job for an entertainer in the fifth sense of the word as a noun, and that that a gig could also be a cylindrical spinning thing, a thing to do with sailing, or a grotesque or ugly person, among other definitions.  This is why I love English.

Wiseguy:  When a writer means mobster and writes wise guy, I think, this is kind of a contranym: when the same word can have opposite meanings.  It’s not exact here, because wiseguy is different from wise guy, but you catch my meaning.  A wiseguy is a mobster.  A wise guy is a funny person or jokester.  The word that gave me the concept of contranym is staggering:  The moon is a staggering distance from the sun.  I am lucky to live staggering distance to the bar.  Very big in the first use, very small in the second.

From Flickr user Tony.L.Wong

Tack vs. tact: A tack is a push-pin, but it’s also a method or course, especially one that’s drastically divergent from previous methods or courses.  Tact is a social nicety in which a person knows how to speak without offending others.  Here’s an example of a hilarious misuse, “He thought he’d try a new tact.”

Pour-over, pore over: Pour-over is a method for brewing coffee in which a porcelain (or

From Flickr user Redband-Coffee-Co

plastic) cone-shaped brew basket rests on a coffee cup, and it is brewed, one cup at a time.  When one pores over something, one studies it closely.

Canvass, canvas: Canvas is that stuff that shoes and sacks are made of.  Some artists paint on canvas.  Canvas is a noun.  When one is surveying an area in hopes of

From Flickr user Net_efekt

catching a criminal or electing a particular person, one goes canvassing, and uses a second s and a verb.

Farther, further: This one is the trickiest of all of these.  Farther connotes distance, as in, “if she could make it a touch farther, she’d be home free.”  Further connotes concept, so to encourage or increase the reach of an idea or philosophy.  For instance, “She hoped that if she saved the puppy, she’d further PETA’s cause.”

How about you, fellow editors?  A favorite or funny misuse?  Have you been seeing a lot of spelling errors in the world, too?

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