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Journalists Most Misspelled Words

Great list of more than 60 words no Johnny but journalists misspell according to the experiences of Roy Peter Clark: acknowledgment: (The American Heritage Dictionary also permits acknowledgement, but prefers to drop that extra "e," and so do I.) acquiesce: (The "sce" ending always gives me problems, as in reminisce.) aphrodisiac: (Named after Aphrodite, Greek goddess of love. Would that make an afrodisiac something that gives you a desire to listen to "Earth, Wind and Fire"?) appropriate: (Most words beginning with an "ap" are followed by another p; so if you've got to guess, go with app ...) camaraderie: (I don't understand how we get from "comrade" to this vowely abstraction, but I learned how to spell it by following a simple consonant-vowel-consonant-vowel pattern.) carcass: (I can now spell any word that ends with -ass.) Caribbean: (You'll have to look up exotic place names, except for Lake Titicaca, of course. But commit to memory the ones you are likely to use most often: Mediterranean, Schenectady, Mississippi, Albuquerque.) cemetery: (Just remember "three e's.") congratulate: (Sounds like that first "t" should be a "d." You can see part of the word gratis in the middle, derived from the Latin for gift.) colonel: (A homophone with kernel. Just remember "the colonial colonel.") commitment: (But if the suffix begins with a consonant, as -ment, you do not double the previous letter. I remember this because of Roddy Doyle's novel about an Irish soul band: "The Commitments.") committed: (A reliable rule is that when you add an "ed" to a verb ending in a consonant, you double the consonant: referred.) conscience: (While homophones -- words that sound the same but have different meanings -- are always a problem, so are words that sound alike, but not exactly alike, which why we confuse this with conscious.) definitely: (It helps me to see the word finite in the middle.) diaphragm: (That "g" is silent in words such as phlegm, but can be heard in phlegmatic.) dilemma: (After watching the weeping news editor, I can never misspell this one.) dumbbell: (A bit old-fashioned to use for exercise weights or dumb jocks, but retains an enduring if politically incorrect charm.) embarrass: (Two r's and two s'es.) flier: (My high school team name was The Flyers, so I object to the use of flier to denote both the aviator and the leaflet.) forty: (Go figure.) gauge: (Tough one to remember, as is gouge.) genuine: (Just take out your wallet, which probably claims to be "genuine leather.") handkerchief: (When I was a kid, I was blown away by this spelling, until I realized it denoted a small kerchief, one you held in your hand.) hemorrhage: (If you can spell this, you can spell hemorrhoid. Cheers.) hors d'oeuvres: (Damn the French, except for the food, of course. Looks like it could mean the work of horses or the work of whores, but literally means "outside the main work." Yummy.) inoculate (Most people want to add another "n." I remember the phrase "in the eye" because oculus is Latin for eye.) judgment: (Now that I remember to leave out the "e" in the middle, the AHD gives its blessing, but not its preference, to judgement.) liaison: (Three vowels in a row are bound to screw you up.) lieutenant: (Now that I've learned the origin, I'll never misspell it again. It comes from the French word lieu or place, as in "in lieu of flowers." A lieutenant is a place holder.) limousine: (Did I say something nasty about the French?) manageable millennium:(Misspelled a thousand times. It literally means a thousand years. The Latin word for year is annum, as in per annum or anniversary, which gives us the double n.) minuscule: (I misspelled this until I remembered the word begins with "minus.") misspell: (Always fun to get this one wrong.) neighbor: (I learned this in fourth grade: "i" before "e," except after "c," or when sounded like -ay, as in neighbor and weigh.) noticeable occurrence: (One more time.) paramour: (You say to your sweetheart, "Oh, you!" or O-U.) perseverance: (A good severance package helps you persevere.) (This refers to an event held for the first time, as in the premiere of a movie, but if you mean a head of state or the first among many, lop off that final e.) questionnaire: (See rule under committed.) pastime: (Baseball fans usually get this one.) playwright: (Playwrite is the understandable mistake, until you learn that wright means maker, as in cartwright or wheelwright or wainwright or boatwright.) pneumonia: (Not sure why that initial "p" before a consonant likes to keep its mouth shut.) ptomaine: (Old, bad joke: If you get ptomaine poisoning, we may have to call a toe truck and then cut off your main toe.) receive reconnaissance: My editor alerted me to the fact that I misspelled this word in my first draft. reconnoiter relieve: (My mom taught me to remember certain ie words this way: You believe a lie.) Renaissance: (Some words mark a specific historical period, but can be used in a broader sense, without the initial capital letter, in this case to mean rebirth.") rendezvous: (Sometimes it helps to remember a foreign word by giving it a conventional English pronunciation, just for fun: "Sweetheart, let's have a romantic ron-dez-voos.") rhythm: (Often paired with rhyme.) sabotage: (I now know that a sabot is a wooden shoe that could be taken off and banged on a table to subvert work.) siege seize: (I remember seize and siege as a pair. If I say "seize the day," I know the other one is an "ie" word.) separate: (People want to write seperate, but to a golfer like me, it would be below par.) sergeant: (It appears as if care is needed with words of military rank.) suede: (From the French word for Swede.) supersede: (I never get this right. Grrr. Perhaps I can remember that the secret of success lives in the first letter.) threshold: (The way I pronounce it, sounds like it should have another "h.") thoroughfare: (Folks who learn English as a second language find the "ough" spellings and pronunciations a huge problem.) traveling: (AHD blesses both a single "l" and a "double l" solution.) vacuum: (Vacume would be too easy, and not as visually arresting as that double u.) vignette weird: (Seems to me that it should be "ie," but then the word is, after all, weird.) Feel free to enlarge the list and in comments let us know which are the words that cause trouble to you.


  1. Anonymous10:02 AM

    And bloggers' most mispunctuated post titles?

  2. Ha! You're right. Thanks for pointing it out.


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