A Plethora of Errors

As a writer on language, I’m especially sensitive to mistakes I encounter while reading. They seem to leap off the page, and I gleefully seize them as potential material for this column.

Here are some of my recent “catches,” all from major newspapers:

  • “The restaurant is offering a prefix dinner menu with a choice of two courses….”

Unless the eatery also serves suffixes, the correct spelling isprix-fixe (meaning “fixed price”)This French expression can be misspelled in multiple ways, and I suspect that I’ve seen every possible permutation.

  • “During those Games, [Mark Spitz] also famously tried to psyche out a Russian coach….”

The slang expression for messing with the head of an opponent, a verb, is spelled psych (and pronounced SIKE). The nounpsyche (pronounced SY-kee), refers to the mind or spirit.

  • “But the details on how each [cellphone] carrier handles or transfers contacts can be a little dicey.”

The word dicey means involving danger or risk. The writer surely meant that the details were unclear or uncertain.

  • “[The pastor greeted] handsome young men in his church with warm hugs and hair-tussling horseplay….”

The verb tussle means struggle or scuffle. It might make sense here, in a strained way, but the writer probably meant hair-tousling.

[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 recently published by AWAI that shows writers and other creative professionals how to diversify their careers into speaking, consulting, training, and critiquing.]

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Don Hauptman was an award-winning independent direct-response copywriter and creative consultant for more than 30 years. He may be best known for his headline “Speak Spanish [French, German, etc.] Like a Diplomat!” This familiar series of ads sold spectacular numbers of recorded foreign language lessons for Audio-Forum, generating revenues that total in the tens of millions of dollars. In the process, the ad achieved the status of an industry classic. Don’s work is mentioned in three major college advertising textbooks, and examples of his promotions are cited in the books Million Dollar Mailings (1992) and World's Greatest Direct Mail Sales Letters (1996). In a column in Advertising Age, his name was included in a short list of direct-marketing “superstars.” He has a parallel career as a writer on language and wordplay. His celebration of spoonerisms, Cruel and Unusual Puns (Dell, 1991), received rave reviews and quickly went into a second printing. His second book was Acronymania (Dell, 1993). Recently, Don retired from full-time copywriting in order to focus on other interests, including his passion for “recreational linguistics.” He is at work on a new book in that genre. He is a regular contributor to the magazine Word Ways and writes “The Language Perfectionist,” a weekly column on grammar and usage, for Early to Rise. Don is author of The Versatile Freelancer,an e-book from American Writers and Artists, Inc. (AWAI) that shows copywriters – and almost anyone – how to diversify their careers into consulting, training, critiquing, and speaking.