A Gaggle of Gaffes

Mistakes can be a good thing. They teach us what to avoid. The trick, though, is to learn by observing others make them.

With that goal in mind, here’s another roundup of misspellings, misunderstandings, and other misuses — all found via Internet search, but equally frequent in print:

“I just find it as ridiculous as any other hair-brained conspiracy theory.”

Whether hair-brained or hairbrained, it’s wrong. The correct word is harebrained — that is, the brain of a rabbit. It’s true that hare was once spelled hair, but that was 400 years ago. Don’t be harebrained; spell it correctly!

“I do have a photo of his name on the marquis of the theater where he gave his last performance.”

The canopy of a theater is a marquee (mar-KEE). A French nobleman is a marquis (mar-KEE or, in the anglicized pronunciation, MAR-qwis).

“The people who do not have money or marketable skills — the poor, the elderly, the frail, the uneducated — fall between the cracks with no place, no role, and no money to buy what they need.”

This is a commonly garbled metaphor. Something that is forgotten or overlooked falls into or through the cracks, not between them.

“This is unchartered territory for … presidential candidates, given the fact that the whole primary season starts … three days after New Year’s ….”

An organization that lacks a document outlining its principles and functions is unchartered. The word wanted here is uncharted.

“Juliana, I enjoy this new newsletter format so much better than the daily newsletter which I felt obliged to peruse quickly so as to have time to do research.”

The word peruse means to read carefully, and that takes time. It’s often misinterpreted, as in the above example, as meaning the opposite: to read rapidly, to scan to get the gist. Incidentally, it’s considered pretentious to use peruse when read will suffice.

[Ed Note: For more than three decades, Don Hauptman was an award-winning independent direct-response copywriter and creative consultant. He is author of The Versatile Freelancer, an e-book published by AWAI that shows writers and other creative professionals how to diversify their careers into speaking, consulting, training, and critiquing.]