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WATCH HOW YOU SAY IT

December 14, 2011

            I’d just finished my 625th review on Amazon last Saturday (December 10th). As I was editing it before pushing the “publish” button, I caught a word that the spell checker wouldn’t recognize as wrong. The sentence in question referred to the author using a co-author and said that though he let this co-author do the heavy lifting, he still had a firm hand on the reigns. What I meant to say is he had a firm hand on the reins. Since the first word was spelled correctly, spell checker wouldn’t have known it was the wrong usage of the word. A good grammar checker might have caught it, but more than likely, even grammar checker would have skipped it over in favor of something more blatant.

            The chances are, the average reader wouldn’t notice, but more aware readers might call you on it. Sure, a good editor is paid to catch stuff like that, but you, as a writer, should know better. Of course, none of us are perfect, but the better we are at catching our mistakes, the less chance we have of making ourselves an easy target.

            Years ago, my buddy Doug Lubahn caught me in a doozy when in an e-mail to him I told him I was waiting with baited breath for something or other. What I meant to say was bated breath. He never let me hear the end of it!

            The point is that when you choose to use words like that with double meanings or words with similar pronunciations but different spellings, step carefully! Those little errors can make for some embarrassing gaffes that give ammunition to your detractors. It’s bad enough when they don’t like your story. So what? That’s a given. However, when they have an easy target like the quality of your writing, you’re giving them an opening they don’t deserve.

            Two of the technical terms I’m talking about are homophones and homonyms. An example of a homophone would be “I received some mail from a male friend.” Homophones are two words that are pronounced the same but are spelled differently and have different meanings, as in my reins example above.

            On the other hand, a homonym is a word that is spelled the same but is pronounced two different ways and has two different meanings such as “I wound up the clock.” On the other hand, it could be used as “Justin dressed the wound on his arm.”

            As a writer, you shouldn’t have a problem with homonyms. However, the homophones are the ones that can give you grief. Be aware of them and always double check them. Don’t depend on your editor to catch them all. Save yourself some embarrassment!

            Oh, and don’t forget to clothes the door on the way out!

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. December 14, 2011 5:13 am

    Fred…You must have had a heyday with my book, “Diary of a Young Musician, Final Days of the Big Band Era.” I never had it edited, and found scads of typos and more serious errors that I corrected before changing to another publisher. I began the novel after having written 10 children’s stories that were my only background in writing that I began at age 60. Writing never entered my mind until I retired and was painting the hallway of my house when I got an idea about a boy and his dog and went to computer. I never turned back and the hallway after 21 years still isn’t finished. Shirley never said a word about it and I’m sure it bothered her. That’s the sort of person she was who made our life together such a pleasure. We would have been married 50 years this Thursday, December 15. Merry Christmas, Fred.

    • December 15, 2011 2:06 am

      Felix,

      Thant’s a wonderful story about how your book came about! The thing is that no book is perfect and you can keep editing it forever. It’s a great book anyway, great story. Everyone should read it. If you ever decide to do a reprint, you can edit it again but until then, it’s just fine.

      Always love to hear from you.

      Fred

  2. December 14, 2011 9:43 am

    Ha. There’s a great icon on LJ that makes fun of things like that. Especially the ‘baited’ breath one. 😀

    • December 15, 2011 2:10 am

      Hey Kaitlin, welcome and thanks for the comment!

      I’ve made some pretty big goofs like that but luckily I’ve caught most of them before they ever left my computer.

      Fred

  3. Ann Marquez permalink
    December 16, 2011 6:28 pm

    LOL I made the same reins/reigns blooper. My problem is that I always see what I meant to say. Or I can’t find my glasses and I click on the wrong correction. Or like we mentioned before, I edit part of the sentence then forget to adjust the rest of that sentence and the surrounding sentences. Or the correction left a hanging word because it escaped the delete highlight. These are a few of the reasons why I always need complete supervision and an extra pair of eyes.

    I used to stress over my mistakes so much. As a matter of fact, I think I was the first one to faithfully use the spellchecker in email. Today I’m all about non-stressing. If I bloop in an email, Oh Well. Or how ’bout that auto correct on iPhone? It definitely makes life interesting. I know this is THE wrong attitude and setting a bad example, but I swear, I really needed to lighten up.

    However, I promise, I still take “published” work very serious. 🙂 Very good post, Fred!

    • December 17, 2011 2:26 am

      Annie,

      Yeah, as a writer, I should expect my e-mails to be perfect yet they rarely are. I always edit them, but a lot of times as I hit the send button I see something I missed but “oops” too late to take it back and I’m too lazy to hit the retrieve button and do it over. I HAVE done that with posts on the forums I participate in, even though they all give you a chance to review your posts before the final publish button. I’ve gone in and re-edited them after I initially sent them out. I’ve even gone in and edited some of my Amazon reviews when I’ve gone back for one reason or other and saw something I’ve written years before and cringed at. However, e-mails? They’re between friends so they should just be conversation, not a published MS. Nothing to as high a standard. Doesn’t mean I don’t go the extra mile, at least a little bit!

      Of course, I’m mainly talking about grammar and punctuation, not usually misused words as in the article, but they HAVE slipped through on occasion like the “baited” breath example.

      Oh well…

      Thanks for the feedback!

      Fred

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