Someone unsubscribed from my mailing list today and their reason was:
You can’t spell and it offends me.
Someone unsubscribing isn’t a big deal, but I do try to make sure everything is spelled correctly. For most posts, I write it and then have my assistant proof it just to make sure I didn’t make any glaring mistakes. The “asides” that I post (one paragraph without any pictures) usually don’t get proofed.
I think I found the offensive word that caused this person to unsubscribe. I had used the word “there” instead of “their”. I catch myself doing this on a regular basis–substituting words that sound the same. I know which word to use, but somehow my brain writes the sound instead of the way the word is spelled.
It isn’t a matter of not knowing what word to use. Instead it seems to be related to the way I “listen” to my voice in my head and then type what I’m hearing. I find it fascinating because there is something odd going on here. It is almost as if I’m getting into a groove and the writing process is skipping over some stage that is normally supposed to do the processing and choose the right word. My brain is grabbing the first word it finds that makes the same sound and going on.
The solution is of course to slow down, but I wondered if anyone else runs into this type of thing when writing?
this happens to me all the time…especially when writing email. it’s-its, your-you’re, etc. I also skip words entirely. what’s really strange is sometimes my fingers type a common word that shares the first couple letters as the not-so-common word i meant to type. i wish i could think of an example but nothing is coming to me right now. bottom line, is i completely agree with you that it feels like the brain is trying to take shortcuts. sometimes, when i type the wrong word entirely, it feels a bit like a freudian slip. (and yes, i’ve just plain given up on capitalization.)
Yes, this happens to me, too. But just in English, which is a foreign language to me..
I never have this problem because English is my second language. My mother tongue is Chinese. I have never seen this kind of problem with non-native speakers.
Maybe because we learned spoken and written English simultaneously, the visual element usually has a stronger effect. It was shocking to me that many English speaking college graduate have problems with “you’re” and “your”, “there” and “their”.
This is what Malcolm Gladwell called, “Disadvantage that turns out to be advantage”, isn’t it?
English is tricky. I too have to imagine the voice in my brain in order to understand. It is a very vocal language. With Chinese, which I know 3 dialects that sound completely different, I can glance the written words and have a picture in my mind without having going through sounds.
Some native English speakers can do it too. One of my English teachers insist that the reason I read slow is because I must make the sound. She can read faster than she speak out loud because she can comprehend the text without imagining the voice!
Dave t says
“You can’t spell and it offends me” Heavens! This person is obviously so perfect apart from the fact that they are a prize pudding……what a funny little comment to leave. Better off without them if all they can bring to the conversation is a small mind and an even smaller level of tolerance. They obviously spend all day proofreading and redrafting things and then discover that the letter they were meant to send a week ago is still in their tray having been sent back for typing ten times.
Sometimes trying to be perfect makes you imperfect! Love the blog!
It makes me twitch when people do it, but I wouldn’t let it influence me to remove a site from my feeds unless it was atrociously awful. Anyway, using correct grammar, spelling, and punctuation can really make a website look polished and professional. It could be a good New Year’s resolution to become more active about proof reading before posting as well as catching yourself when you make those mistakes, so that it becomes habit to use the correct word.
This is happening more often to me and I used to be very proud of my skill with English. Like you, I’m using homophones incorrectly and also leaving the ends of words (I might write “He fend off enemies”, instead of “he fended of enemies”, and just now, I left “a” out of “instead”, and put a “v” in “left.”) It’s very upsetting to me.
I can still read very quickly though.
…rude people who judge others so harshly? Yes! I do run into them, way too often lately!
It is happening more and more to me these days, and it is damned annoying, as I am usually very pedantic about my spelling. I think my main problem is the as I am getting older, my fingers cant keep up with my flow of thought, and I end up transposing letters, and doing things like typing ‘if’ instead of ‘it’ and ‘of’ instead on ‘on’ etc.
I am not bad at spelling but I am horrible at typing, which makes people think I am bad at spelling. I am not worried about it and you shouldn’t be either.
I feel bad for the person, who left your blog becauseof your mistakes. I wonder what it must be like for them to live in a world that is not at all perfect.; that has got to be tough.
It would be funny if they searched this post for mistakes, ha ha maybe they have a sense of humor? Anyway, whoever you are, you will never find peace in trying to create perfection. Just FYI
Shane Maloney says
My specific problem is that I type the word “believe” so quickly that my left hand hits the “e” before the right hand hits the “i” and it ends up looking like this – “beleive”. Very frustrating because I would hate for think people to think I can’t spell beleive. D’oh.
I speed read a lot to save time, and what happens is that I mostly do not notice spelling errors, but grammar mistakes are especially glaring.
Like many commenters have mentioned, I also do the same stuff. Once I even wrote ‘U’ instead of ‘You’ in a competition composition! Too much texting I guess.
A spelling mistake is forgivable once in awhile. There’s no need to be overly meticulous about it :D
Kevin Cox says
Face it, some people are NEVER pleased, with anyone or anything! Just keep doing your bestest, and we’ll (or is that will?) keep on your (or is that you’re?) list.
I do this too. I’m bad about right and write. Prolly cause I use right more often. It just comes out even if I think write.
I will also type words people say around me instead of what I’m thinking. Without even realizing it. Weird.
And I can’t spell worth crap. I got in trouble resently for writing Skema instead of schema.
But I’m good at math which makes up for it.
Hi Mark – yes, homonyms happen – I believed for a long time reading front to back was sufficient and the back to front editors didn’t know what they were doing – so, now, I, um, read back to front on the important documents – I think your articles are very worthwhile. If anyone thinks their typing could be an issue – try the DasKeyboard – expensive but better than thinking you’re the problem!
Adventurous Wench women tours says
As humans, we all make mistakes. What’s more important is the meat of the article.
Of course, it helps to have someone other than yourself to proofread your work before publishing it.
Marty Marsh says
Hey Mark — What you offer to me is far more valuable than whether you misspell a word every now and again or mix up the letters that sound the same. I suppose when we put ourselves out there online that some people are just looking for something to complain about. Don’t let ’em get you down. You’re a-okay in my book!
Jon Dale says
Mark, I do this all the time. Then one of the brightest guys I know told me that it’s a sign of extreme intelligence…and I chose to believe him. Since then I’ve embraced my miss-spellings (and been thankful that FireFox catches most of them).
Target Practice says
Wow… I never reply to blog posts, but this post hit a nerve.
The fact that someone would quit reading a blog because of a “there/their” mistake speaks more about that person than the value you offer.
I think it’s endearing when I read a smart person making a common spelling mistake! It makes me realize there is a human involved.
It’s maddening whenever someone makes a value judgement about a smart person based on a common typo, being 5 minutes late to a meeting, or failure to color within the lines, etc.
I’m glad you posted about this, but I think the unsubscriber is the one with a problem…
How sad there life must be if their offended by such things. ;-)
First: don’t worry about it to the point that it cripples you. Mistakes happen, and it doesn’t help that the brain actually translates the right word in place of the incorrect one, especially when it comes to homophones.
Second: You say
“It is almost as if I’m getting into a groove and the writing process is skipping over some stage that is normally supposed to do the processing and choose the right word.”
And you’re dead on. So much of typing is pure muscle memory. If you don’t believe me, think about typing the word “the” versus just typing the. Furthermore, note how much easier (reflexively) it is for your hand to type “there” than “their.”
So, yeah, efficiency at typing is based on less processing from the brain and more muscle memorization.
Andre at “Tools For Thought” has written recently about how increasing his typing speed has increased his global productivity. I wonder if it’s also increased the frequency in which he uses the wrong homophone. I’ll ask him – it’d be an interesting secondary consideration to think about.
Wow! I somehow thought this was just happening to me. Most often it’s homonyms or leaving the ending off words (plurals, etc). But sometimes I even find myself typing words I’m overhearing from a discussion nearby rather than what I’m thinking in my head. Usually it’s not the whole conversation, just a random word here and there. It’s kind of like you said, it feels like my brain isn’t processing my thoughts correctly when translating to my fingers.
what DOES keep your subscribers hooked? not great grammar and spelling, but the content and the help it offers to us. :]
Mark Shead says
Thank you to everyone for their encouragement. I’m not sure that spelling mistakes are a sign of extreme intelligence, but at least I know I’m not alone. :)
My daughter has this difficulty with homonyms (words that sound alike), among others. Through testing, it was determined that she has difficulty with the brain function that accesses routine, rote information. This problem occurs during academic testing because of stress. It occurs during writing because her brain is multi-tasking – at the same time it is being creative, and processing higher end organizational thinking, it is also trying to apply rote rules of grammar. She knows the information. The brain just experiences “interference.” When ever possible, she needs to write, revise for content, and then set aside for a day to review for grammar functions alone. I often give her another set of eyes.
As an attorney who writes a lot for a living, I can attest to the value of another set of eyes to proof read. Proofing something on your own that you have just written is never as accurate as being able to set the writing aside for a later look or have someone else proof it. Of course, the work pace created by technology, that creates the need for your blog, also makes it difficult to make the time to revise.
The problem is that your brain doesn’t follow rules when you are writing. And nobody thinks in writing. It just uses statistical probabilities. In English you use ‘there’ a lot more often than ‘their’. So whenever you want to write /th?/, your brain will tell you that there is a very high probability that you need the letters t-h-e-r-e. So it is a very logical mistake to make. (Even though it’s an ugly one.)
Unless you start thinking about your spelling consciously, you will make a lot of those errors. Only then you would break the flow, so your brain will not allow you to do that.
The only solution is proofreading, and trying to do that as if the piece was written by someone else.
In my experience mistakes like these are made more often by native speakers than second language users. The latter have to make a conscious effort to write ‘correctly’ anyway.
Apart from this, English spelling is horrible. In most Indo-European languages the ratio between speech sounds and the different ways to write them is around 1,5 in English its about 10. (E.g. In Dutch and in English there are about 40 distinctive speech sounds (phonemes for fellow linguists): in Dutch we use about 60 different letter combinations to represent them (graphemes), in English this number is about 400.)
Hence the ‘ghoti’ = alternative spelling for ‘fish’ joke.
(f of enough, i of women and sh of nation)
To make things even harder, English has a lot of homonyms, mainly because of its diverse parentage (a lot of words of Romanic stock sound the same as words with a different meaning of Germanic stock) and because of the great vowel shift, that happened around the 17th century in English, which was never represented in the spelling. Even though most of the sounds have changed, you still use the same spelling as Shakespeare did.
So don’t worry too much about this, but try to make the effort to proofread before you post. Using bad spelling says nothing about your intelligence or the quality of your argument it just looks a bit sloppy from time to time.
I am so encouraged by hearing others have experienced what I was labeling “the deterioration of my typing skills”, presumably due to age. I’ve always felt good about my typing (and spelling) skills (maybe too good). Since I make my living as a sys admin I was contemplating a career change, “how long can I keep doing this” kind of deal. Sounds like there might be ways to adapt to it, I’m particularly interested in the “picking up words from other conversations” comments. Just wanted to say, thanks for the discussion, helped me out today!
Mark Shead says
@Mistere – Thank you! I’m glad to hear the discussion was helpful.
“I know which word to use, but somehow my brain writes the sound instead of the way the word is spelled.”
You know, technically speaking homophones sound the same by definition. So if your brain “writes the sound” as you put it, there should be a 50% chance for you of doing it correctly. If the percentage is significantly different from that, you are simply doing it wrong.
You know, this sounds familiar to me. I believe I do this….and I do it a lot. Its been this way for years. For instance, recently I was typing out a sentence that had the word “things” in it, but instead I typed “thanks”. It’s like my hands have a mind of their own. I was beginning to think I was some sort of oddity….or possessed.