(Obviously I used a published cartoon as my illustration. It was too perfect not to use.)

Typos. We all make them. Sometimes I think there are typo gremlins, just waiting till I do some editing and slipping a few typos in for a treat (for them, not for us). Sometimes it’s just that my brain goes faster than my fingers even though I touch type quite rapidly. The main thing is to make sure you and your editor/proof reader check, check and check again. The odd one will still slither through. I’ve noticed that since the big publishers decided to rely more and more on authors using some kind of spell checker, there are typos in books by people who would never in a million years have had typos at the start of their careers. Terry Pratchett, Robin Hobb, and others.

However, there are typos and typos. There are the kind like ‘teh’ for ‘the’ which are pretty obviously just that: typing errors. The same goes for triple or single letters that should be double. Or mis-spellings of place names, especially in foreign countries, when elsewhere in the text they are perfect. Then there are the ones that actually annoy me and if too common in a work can throw me out of the story completely.

I think this sort are caused by writers with a less than stellar grasp of spelling placing huge reliance on their spell checker. Now, we can’t all be brilliant spellers, but we can all learn to be less in awe of spell checkers and go with our own instinct or knowledge. Word and Google Docs often disagree, especially over things like correct hyphenation or other punctuation. They are not omniscient!

I use Word’s spellchecker and it hasn’t a clue about the difference between ‘their’ and ‘there’, or ‘bear’ and ‘bare’ or ‘lead’ and ‘led’. It thinks it has but it hasn’t. It gets very agitated about ‘its’ and ‘it’s’ and the advice it gives tends to be wrong. It is puzzled by unusual names or names that are similar to actual words. For instance, the dragon in my Skilled Investigator series is called Scratch and Word is horrified that I should capitalise this… One of the investigators is called Raf when he is under cover, and Word would like him to be RAF. Yes, well…

Contrary to the apparent assumptions of some writers, spellcheckers are not really intelligent and can’t always work out the context of a word. So we get errors like ‘reign’ for ‘rein’. The first is for royalty and the second implies control, particularly for horses but also in such phrases as ‘reined in their feelings of aggression’ or something like that. Sometimes the writer accepts the spellchecker’s advice because they don’t know any better. They may only have heard the word or phrase and never seen it written. They may have no idea of its origins. Another common mistake of this nature is ‘past times’ for ‘pastimes’ which are to do with passing the time and nothing whatsoever to do with yesteryear. Admittedly some shops and manufacturers have added to the confusion by using things like this as a play on words, thinking all their customers will know the difference. I have news for them…

Spellcheckers don’t seem to have grasped the issues with regard to the various forms of the verbs to lie and to lay. These muddles are in fact exacerbated by things like the old prayer that starts: ‘Now I lay me down to sleep’. The verb in that is being used reflexively and does not mean you can go ahead and lay on a bed, unless you’re a chicken. Nor should you use ‘lay of the land’ instead of ‘lie’. Though I think that one might be caused by confusion with ley lines.

Sometimes the problem lies with the local dialect that the writer hears all around them and assumes is the norm. Or with one they hear in a show that might not necessarily reflect the reality of the region they’re writing about. I was thrown out of a story recently because the writer insisted on its Irish character using ‘yous’ at all times and for both singular and plural people despite the fact that they were an educated person and that in any case would be unlikely to use it when addressing a single listener.

The bottom line is that we can all type things like that – I managed to mis-spell aggression in the first draft of this post. But – and it’s a huge BUT – we can learn to check and there’s that button on Word’s spellchecker that lets you click ‘ignore’. I don’t think it actually teaches the program anything (going by its attitude to Scratch throughout six novels) but at least you can tell yourself you’ve considered the advice and rejected it.

My own most common errors (outside the occasional total typo) are extra spaces or missed spaces. Spell checkers pick those up beautifully. But then I do some editing and the gremlins have the last laugh.

Speaking English and spelling it.

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I have been absent too long. First of all I was in Portugal and trying not to use my very expensive internet connection. Then I was frantically working on a fanfic novella for a ‘big bang’ challenge which is when writers and artists collaborate on longish works and of course the timing and to-ing and fro-ing is crucial to success. That’s finished now.

I have also been discussing language with my daughter, specifically the English language, because my grandson is being taught phonics, despite the fact that he can already read and spell. I admit that phonics has a place as part of a many-pronged approach to teaching reading and spelling, but think that it might well short-change some youngsters in later years if used in isolation, which is the current practice in UK primary schools.

We started looking at some of the words people have difficulty spelling and at some they have difficulty pronouncing. We looked up some of our own ‘problem’ words and I was relieved to find that ‘valet’ could be pronounced either to rhyme with ‘chalet’ or with ‘mallet’. My daughter felt vindicated when we found that eagles can live in a thing pronounced ‘eerie’ or ‘airy’ or ‘eye-rie’. It’s interesting, too, that if you have only ever seen a word in print and never heard it, phonics does not necessarily give you any clues as to how it sounds.

We found an article about changing spelling which highlighted the historical influences.


I am frequently annoyed by people who try to tell us about our language and then base everything they say on current practice (or what was current when they went to school) without admitting that languages live and grow. The following article would have annoyed me except that it was in a newspaper I can’t take seriously. I suspect the book it is talking about is not going to be on my wish list. But that’s about usage rather than pronunciation or spelling.


Then we found the following:


I had come across something similar with a focus on words ending in ‘ough’ but I did find this to be a nice commentary on any attempt to force English into the mould of a phonetic language.

So – any words you have always wondered about?

Here’s a link to the dictionary page where we found the eyrie – you can type any word into the search box and then click on the ‘loudspeaker’ symbols to check the pronunciation.


Have fun! (I can get lost in a dictionary for hours…)