The Language Perfectionist: A Bad Spell

Long before the Internet, jokes, lists, fun facts, and the like were circulated on old-fashioned paper. This sort of material was wryly dubbed “photocopier folklore” by Alan Dundes, a scholar who specialized in the phenomenon and compiled his discoveries into a series of books.

One such item I recall was a list of the most commonly misspelled words. I no longer have the original but I’ve attempted to reconstruct it from various sources. Online searches confirm that these misspellings are frequent. My list is far from complete, so please accept my apologies if your own pet peeve is absent.

  • accelerate (not “acelerate” or “accellerate”)
  • accommodate (not “acommodate” or “accomodate”)
  • acknowledgment (not “acknowledgement”)
  • desiccate (not “dessicate” or “desicate”)
  • embarrass (not “embarass”)
  • harass (not “harrass”)
  • impresario (not “impressario”)
  • inoculate (not “innoculate”)
  • judgment (not “judgement”)
  • millennium (not “millenium”)
  • minuscule (not “miniscule”)
  • rarefied (not “rarified”)
  • sacrilegious (not “sacreligious”)
  • supersede (not “supercede”)

How can you avoid committing these errors? Your word processor’s spell-checker and auto-correct feature can help. But not always. My Word spell-checker missed some of the incorrect spellings above.

Let’s face it: English spelling is so irregular and quirky that the best solution is to memorize the proper spellings. And when at all in doubt, consult a good dictionary, either hard copy or online.

Alternatively, you could wait for the “spelling reformers” to change the English language. But that revolution has been repeatedly attempted without success for the past 460 years!

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