Your comment about my grammar or spelling error had a grammer or speling error, my friend.
Of the comments you all shared, the common thread was a strong opinion about some kind of grammar, spelling, usage or speech mistake that drives you bonkers.
Some of you will boycott a store with an express lane that specifies “10 items or less” rather than “10 items or fewer,” others of us are irked at the never-correct but ever-popular “between you and I,” and some bemoan the rise of the expression “don’t take it personal.”
Most interesting to me in reading the comments as they came in, though, was how many fell victim to a phenomenon that old-timers on the internet are familiar with, even if we may not have known what it’s called.
Welcome to Muphry’s Law.
You read that right. Muphry’s, not Murphy’s Law.
Murphy’s Law is the one that says “anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.”
Muphry’s law, as you might guess from the clever name, applies a similar concept to typos, grammar and proofreading.
It says that “if you write anything that criticizes someone’s spelling, editing or proofreading, there will be some kind of spelling, editing or proofreading fault in what you have written.”
There are other similar terms for this phenomenon; my favorite is called the Iron Law of Nitpicking which says that “you are never more likely to make a grammatical error than when correcting someone else’s grammar.”
Ain’t that the truth? It obviously is for me.
Here are some of the funniest of the comments that illustrate Muphry’s Law:
- “You’re kidding, right? This is 4th grade grammer.” I think fourth-grade spelling is next on the agenda.
- One reader noticed a typo I made (which I fixed, so no need to go hunting for it), but countered with a typo of their own when writing: “I suggest editing the article to say ‘Quality is far more important that quantity’ rather than the current ‘Quality is far more important than quality.’” Can you spot the mistake?
- This was passionately followed up with another commenter:“Wrong! Quality is fat more important. Get an editor!” Is an editor the one to put quality on a diet?
- Some took exception to my headline. “Among the most egregious errors is the use of the word “dumb” when you mean “stupid” What was that about glasshouses?” Well, for one, the word “dumb” does indeed mean stupid, and I don’t think I ever mentioned glass houses, but if I had, it would have been two words. And I’d have put a period at the end of a sentence. It would have gone inside the quote marks around “stupid.” So there.
- The level of frustration at poor grammar and spelling is high among our readers, but some commenters might want to work on their own writing first. How many errors can you find in this one? “I see poor grammer every where. Accessories is pronounced assessories. leaves and shelves pronounced leafs and shelfs. The your and you’er drives me mad.”
- One reader shared, “Spelling is quite atrocious and I often wonder what sort of education young people are recieving.” Yes, I agree. Now, go look up how to spell “receiving,” please.
- In response to my categorization of errors as “bad grammar and spelling” we have the comment that consisted entirely of “duh its poor grammer, bad is a judgement call.” All right then. It is my judgment call that you have misspelled two words in one sentence, used “its” incorrectly, and should have used a semicolon where you put the comma. (Apologies if you are British, where “judgement” is acceptable, so that would would be one spelling error.)
- One reader offered, “The one that makes my teeth knaw is SEPERATE…. it is SepArate. I see this misspelled even in sophisticated newspapers and magazines. UGR.” I concur with the frustration of people misspelling “separate,” but I’m wondering if perhaps I am not sophisticated enough to know what the heck knaw is. Or UGR.
- I do appreciate the reader who (very rightly) corrected my error by writing: “…the standars for a blog or a comment in a blog are different FROM printed materials…” Honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever thought about whether it’s “from” or “than” before, but I researched and learned that 30% of American speakers use “different than” in their speech, versus just 7% who use it in writing. So that’s my defense; I write the same way I talk. I’ll pay better attention from now on, but the point here is that this reader still fell into the grips of Muphry’s Law with “standars.”
I’m not writing this to pick on anyone. I am in awe of the range of comments, and I appreciate every single one.
And of course, we all make mistakes. Sometimes we catch them, and sometimes we don’t. How much time we spend reviewing and editing our work depends on the situation and the acceptable margin of error. Your grocery list has a very wide margin of error. Your resume has a very narrow margin of error.
Occasional mistakes and typos are to be expected with the fast-response and fast-turnaround world of online comments and blogs. The “standars” for a blog are indeed less stringent than the standards for magazines, books or academic papers. Theoretically, blogs are here today and gone tomorrow.
The original point of the first blog in this series, remember, was that sometimes a small mistake can give the wrong impression, and if you’re on the hunt for a job, and it’s down to a very close decision a between you and a candidate who didn’t make any mistakes, that small slip could conceivably change the course of your life.
Nevertheless, the irony of Muphry’s Law is obvious with many of the more vocal complainers making the same mistakes they complain about. Yes, I know that sometimes includes me, too.
Now that you know about Muphry’s Law, I bet you’ll be noticing how often it happens.
Just please don’t let it keep you from commenting here, please. I love reading what everyone has to offer, typos and grammar errors and all.
Thanks to Leslie Ayres
Check out these commonly misused words that many people confuse.
Next up in the ever-entertaining “Grammar Guru” series (which has taken on a life of its own*) let’s look at some sets of words that are often confused.
Again, I want to emphasize that I’m not an English teacher.
I’m an executive recruiter and job search coach, so my focus is business writing.
All of these next seven sets are words that I regularly see used incorrectly in resumes, cover letters and business presentations.
Does this stuff really matter?
Some people think this is too much nitpicking, and that resumes and business correspondence shouldn’t be held to higher standards than other kinds of writing, like daily email or even this blog.
After all, these are just details. Right? Well, no.
Here’s what you have to understand: Daily email, blogs and other casual correspondence are just that: casual. The same rules don’t apply.
But your resume and presentation are your pitch about you, how you are presenting yourself to the world.
We all know that there’s competition out there. Recruiters and hiring managers have every right to assume that you are putting your very best foot forward when you are applying for a job you want.
Which means that if you send that all-important document with typos and errors, and you work in the business world, that’s a red flag. If that’s your best work, then it could be on to the next candidate.
Will it really ruin your chances if you use the wrong word?
That depends on who reviews your resume and letter. As we see from the hundreds of comments in the other articles in this series, some people either don’t know or they don’t care.
But the people who notice really notice, and they really care.
And that means that in the end, that minor mistake could result in someone else getting that last available interview appointment instead of you.
Subtle differences are almost always the tipping point in a job search.
Do you misuse or misspell these words?
So with that in mind, here we go with seven more word sets that create problems for people in business correspondence.
1. Affect / Effect
Both of these words have to do with influencing, and both have multiple meanings, which is why they’re easily confused. So let’s keep it simple.
Most of the time, “affect” is a verb, meaning to influence (the weather is affecting my mood). It helps to remember that “affect is an action,” because both of those words start with “a.”
Most of the time, “effect” is a noun meaning the end result of something (the special effects in the movies). Note that “effect” and “end result” both start with “e.”
“Effect” can also be a verb meaning to create (I want to effect improvement in my company’s community involvement). This use means “result in” which is stronger than “affect” which simply means to influence.
Monroe’s absence affected the whole team, and in the end, had a negative effect on our profits. We need to work together to effect some changes in how we plan our staffing.
For a more in-depth explanation and another handy memory trick, read what my hero Grammar Girl says about “affect vs. effect.”
2. Farther / Further
“Farther” refers to physical distance. Note the word “far” in it, and if you can ask “how far is it?” then use farther.
“Further” is usually metaphorical and not measurable, for example, looking further into the cost of new office space or wanting the stock price to rise further. It’s considered OK to use “further” to describe distance, too.
Today I walked farther than I’d planned, because need to get my exercise plan going without any further procrastination.
3. Advice / Advise
“Advice” is the noun (and rhymes with dice), and “advise” is the verb (it rhymes with rise).
As a career expert, I advise every client that they should seek advice from people they trust.
4. Fewer / Less
When you’re talking about things that can be counted, say “fewer.” If it’s an uncountable subject, a word that has no plural, or you’re talking about money, time or distance, say “less.”
The other team won’t make the meeting, so we need fewer chairs at the conference table. Please tell the caterer we will need less salad and fewer sandwiches, too. We’ll need to work hard because it’s less than two months to launch.
5. Perspective / Prospective
“Perspective” is a noun meaning a point of view, or a way of regarding situations. It’s also what you call drawing a picture so it shows distance, which is literally a point of view (which is how I remember which word to use, having studied art and perspective).
“Prospective” is an adjective for something in the future that you expect. That’s why a potential customer is called a “prospect.”
From the perspective of a prospective customer, my company’s website is confusing.
6. Discrete / Discreet
When something is “discrete,” it’s separate or distinct. I remember this because the the two “e’s” in the word are separated by the “t” which means they are discrete.
When you are “discreet,” you are being unobtrusive, keeping a secret or avoiding embarrassment.
Unknown to the customer service department, the consultants conducted a discreet survey. They identified three discrete areas where our representatives could do a better job.
7. Complement / Compliment
A “complement” is something that completes or makes perfect. Note that “complete” and “complement” both start with the same six letters.
A “compliment” is when you say something nice to someone, or when you give them something, like complimentary breakfast at the hotel. I remember the spelling of compliment because I like compliments (note all the “I” words).
Please send my compliments to the caterer. This wine is the perfect complement to the salmon, and the complimentary dessert was delicious.
I’m having fun with this series, and am learning new things every day. Please share your comments for future articles. Which wrong-word choices are your pet peeve?
Thanks to Leslie Ayres
How a holdover from the days of typewriters inspires fierce loyalty from the masses.
One space or two?
Why is this even a question? Because it’s a style that has completely changed in the last generation.
A little history:
When books were set by hand, there was a special wider space that was used between sentences. But when typewriters were invented, all the characters were the same size, so creating a wider space required hitting the space key twice.
In the 1980s, computers and digital fonts took over, our word processing or web publishing software programs were created to make the adjustments automatically, and so then we needed just one space after a period.
In fact, using two spaces began to be considered an error in punctuation, which is why if you work in Microsoft Word, you’ll see a green underline that shows an error in grammar or punctuation when you put an extra space after the period.
And when you type into a web program, like the comments section here, the HTML will automatically delete the extra spaces.
Is two spaces always totally wrong?
One of the most eloquent and no-doubt-about-it opinions is from Farhad Manjoo of Slate.com, who wrote that “Typing two spaces after a period is totally, complete, utterly and inarguably wrong.”
He, like me, is surprised at the number of people who still use two spaces, and even more surprised at their misplaced confidence that two spaces is absolutely, positively, the proper way to do it.
Business and personal use are two different things, of course.
I want to make sure you understand where I’m coming from. Yes, I am a grammar, spelling and punctuation nitpicker, but I’m not an English teacher. I’m a recruiter and job search coach.
I’m talking about what is proper in business usage.
Business standard is one space.
In the business world—which includes your business emails, cover letters and your resume—it is important to follow standard usage, and that means one space after a period.
Every style guide will tell you to use one space. Every typographer will tell you to use one space. Every editor will tell you to use one space. Anything you read, including magazines, newspapers, books and websites, has been laid out using one space after a period. It’s simply how it’s done.
And yet, it still seems controversial.
On the personal side, do as you wish.
I’m only talking about business writing here.
Language is an art, and if your art requires putting six periods between every sentence or making everything a haiku poem when you’re writing on your blog or to your favorite Google email list, go for it.
In fact, I write my personal emails in all lower case. I find it faster and it fits my style. But that’s only for personal correspondence, never for business.
There are some style guides for college papers that call for two spaces, but they also call for double spacing between lines, because the style is meant for a teacher to have plenty of room to make comments or edits, not for business or publication.
“But that’s how I was taught and I can’t change.”
One thing is clear: people are freakin’ passionate about their opinion on this one, and the predominant reasoning of the two-spacers is some version of “that’s how I was taught, so that’s what seems right to me.”
I’ve even read comments from school teachers who acknowledge that two spaces is wrong, but still insist on teaching it to their students!
Come on folks, I relearned it, and so can you.
This reminds me of the story of the holiday baked ham recipe, which I heard years ago.
The legend of the family baked ham recipe:
There was a woman who cherished her handed-down-through-the-generations special recipe for holiday ham.
First she’d cut a large slice from each end of the ham, and then she would put it into the roasting pan, dust it with brown sugar and spices, and bake it.
One day, she was teaching her own children how to prepare this family dish, and they asked why she sliced the ends off first.
She realized she had no idea, so she called her mother and asked her if she knew why.
Her mother replied that she did it because her own mother had done it that way, and so together, they called the grandmother.
“Why do we cut the ends off of the ham before we bake it?” they asked.
And the grandmother replied, “Because when I married your grandfather, we were poor and I had just one baking dish, and it was too small for a whole ham, so I had to cut the ends off to get it to fit into the pan.”
And that is how habits are handed down through the generations, and why the “we always did it that way” argument makes no sense.
It’s time to give up the two spaces, people.
Yes, when we typed on typewriters, two spaces was the style. That was then and this is now.
Now we type on software with great typography capabilities, and we don’t have to trick it into leaving a little extra space for readability. It can do it on its own.
Why do I care?
Again, I’m talking about how this comes into play in a job search.
When I review your resume created in Microsoft Word, it shows me green underlines where you’ve insisted on using double spaces after a period, and that distracts me from the actual content.
Even if you send me a .pdf, my eye is trained to read documents, and I can see where an extra space has been left in, whether it’s between words or between sentences.
Those extras spaces catch my eye, and that moment of distraction means that instead of, “wow, this person looks perfect,” I am thinking, “there is a mistake” or “here’s another person who hasn’t learned to do things in the digital age.”
Is it a minor issue? Sure, in the scale of life, it might even be called petty.
But if that petty mistake diverts the attention of someone who’s considering hiring you, that little difference could be a costly choice.
So give it up, and come on over to the one-spacer side.
Thanks to Leslie Ayres
You may know how to say these common business words, but do you know how they’re supposed to be spelled?
Continuing on with our lively conversations about grammar and spelling, I’ve been compiling a few lists.
Today, I offer these eleven sets of homophones that I see misused or misspelled in resumes, cover letters and business correspondence.
Homophones are words that sound the same but are spelled differently, which is why they’re commonly confused.
See if you know the correct choice for these sets of words.
(Did you miss earlier articles in this series? Check out 7 Spelling and Grammar Errors that Make You Look Dumb.)
1. Cite / Site / Sight
Cite is a verb meaning give credit to, as in citing your sources. It’s also what the cop does when you get pulled over for speeding and handed a summons to court, which is a citation. This one is easy if you notice that credit, cop, court and citation all start with “c.”
A site is a place, like a campsite or a web site. Site can also be a verb meaning putting something into place, like siting your new house. One friend remembers this because a web site sits on a server.
A sight is something you can see or observe. When you travel, you see the sights (yes, that’s confusing if you go see battle sites, so you’re technically seeing the site sights).
Let’s go sightseeing to those ancient sites and hope we aren’t cited for trespassing.
2. Accept / Except
Accept means to take or receive something, like accepting an Academy Award. Note the a‘s in these words.
Except means excluding, so look for the word that also starts with ‘ex‘ on this one.
My boss won’t accept a call from anyone except our attorney today.
3. Forward / Foreword
Forward is a direction toward a place, point or time. It’s the opposite of backward.
A foreword is a short section written at the beginning of a book. It’s easy to remember, because it has the word “word” in it.
The foreword of the book named their work the most forward-thinking business innovation in years.
4. Everyday / Every day
Everyday is an adjective to describe commonplace things or things we use daily as in “my everyday commute route.”
When you are talking about doing something every day, use two separate words. One way to remember is to leave space to insert for the word “single” for emphasis, as in “every single day.”
Every day I remind my children that keeping a clean desk is an everyday habit worth creating.
5. Principal / Principle
Principal means highest-ranking or most important, as in the main actor in the play, the head of the school or the main amount of your mortgage loan. One trick I learned in school was to remember that “the principal is your pal.”
Principle is a fundamental truth or rule; the tip to remember this is that the word “rule” also ends with “le.”
The principles of accounting tell us to create separate accounts for payments we make to the loan principal and the loan interest.
6. Stationary / Stationery
Stationery is paper used for writing. It may be helpful to know that in years past, the merchant who sold books and papers was the stationer, selling stationery.
Stationary means standing absolutely still or unchanging, with nary a move, like a stationary exercise bike, or plane at the gate.
I used stationery from the hotel to write a note to let the gym manager know the stationary bike was broken.
7. Threw / Through
Threw is the past tense of throw.
Through is for when you’re talking about going in and out of something, like through the tunnel, or working through dinner.
I had to go through a dumpster full of recycling to find the file I accidentally threw out.
8. Copyright / Copywriter
A copyright is literally the right to copy or license a literary, musical or creative work.
A copywriter is someone who writes copy, usually for advertising or publicity.
The copywriter works on projects for many clients, and rarely owns the copyright on their creation.
9. Peak / Peek / Pique / Peaked
A peak is a summit or high point.
A surreptitious look is a peek; see how the double “e” in the word “peek” looks like two eyes sneaking a peek?
From the French for prick or sting, pique can be a verb meaning to wound or irritate, or a noun meaning the feeling of resentment or irritation.
And to confuse things further, there is the word peaked, which is pronounced in two syllables, which means tired and drawn.
It piqued me to be excluded from the planning meeting, but my interest was piqued when I peeked around the corner and saw a chart about peak performance awards with my name at the top. I must have looked bad because my coworker said, “Is something wrong? You look peaked.”
10. Past / Passed
Past refers to time before the current time, such as “in the past” or “past president.” The way to remember is that “time” is a four-letter word, and so is “past.”
Past can also refer to space, such as when you give directions to “drive past the airport exit.”
Passed is the past tense of the word “to pass,” as in “we missed the exit and accidentally passed the airport.”
Once it made it past the recruiter, Jarod’s resume was passed on to the hiring manager, who read it carefully to understand his past position. Unfortunately, the date for submission had passed.
11. Used to / Use to and Supposed to / Suppose to
This confusion with these is the result of poor enunciation and fast speech so that people who’ve never seen the words written apparently think the phrase is “use to” or “suppose to.”
Say it how you will (though you will sound odd if you enunciate too clearly), but spell it with the “d.”
I used to think that all successful entrepreneurs were supposed to work 80 hours a week.
Obviously, with the unpredictability and variety of English, this is not a complete list. Can you think of any more homonyms you see people confuse when they write?
Thanks to Leslie Ayres