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March 11th, 2009

Proofreading quiz

by Barbara Wallraff



The other day, a friend sent me the YouTube link to a monologue by a thoroughly original teacher, poet and humorist named Taylor Mali. The monologue is called “The The Impotence of Proofreading,” and it’s a tour de force. It’s the spoken equivalent of the writing people do when they type faster than they can think and don’t look back. Here’s how the monologue starts: “Has this ever happened to you? You work very, very hoard on a paper for English clash, and still get a very glow raid ...”

The misused words begin getting risque not long after that (don’t say I didn’t warn you!), so I’ll stop describing the monologue right here. I bring it up because it inspired me to write a quiz. In the Word Court tradition, this will be a contest as well: I’ll send an autographed copy of my book “Word Court” to one reader, chosen at random, who sends me -- on my Web site or by mail -- the correct answer within a week of the publication date of this column. To enter the contest, just tell me how many misused words appear in the four paragraphs that follow.

The subject of this quiz is spelling errors of a particulate kind. The wards are all correctly spilled -- but in the context wear they appear, they’re the wrong words. Some sound like the world the writer mint. Others are a letter or too different from the word intended and may or may not sound vary different when said allowed; they’re typos that are easy to make. Still bothers result from misunderstanding what the correct word is or where it comes from. (I’ll admit I’ve taken libertines with the eras I’ve made hear. Some of them are just plane silly. No one would make them accept on porpoise!)

Because these kinds of mistakes involve reel words, they ten to make the writer look especially hair-brained. The meaning of the word the person has actually written pops into the mine of the reader, and the metal picture that results is bound to illicit a laugh.

Someday computer spell-checkers may be able to catch must of these mistakes, thought they’ll need to take a hole new approach. Four instance, the word “whale” hardly ever appears together with “grain” -- but “whole” often does. So a program with axes to that information might suggest changing “whale grain” to “whole grain.” (You night think “whale grain” is a ridiculous, over-the-top example, but I insure you there are numerous instants of it on the Web.)

We’d butter not wait for commuters to salve our selling problems. If we do, we’re libel to make allot of mistakes in the meantime. For the tine being, if we want our writing to be above approach, we’ll have to relay on ourselves. As I type this, I halve the spell-checker turned on, and it sees noting amiss with my text. I hop you see the misused words. Again, to enter the contest, just tell me how many misused words they’re are. I look foreword to earring from you!





© Copyright 2003 by Barbara Wallraff. Reprints require prior permission. All rights reserved.

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