Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Weekly writing coach: Your ears can't spell, so they're doing it wrong

My eyes have a hearing problem. But that's nothing. Your ears, apparently, have a spelling problem.

It was this article--about turbans as a fashion trend--that put me over the edge. Specifically, this reference in paragraph 11, which reads, in part:
At a recent party in Manhattan, Keia Hamilton, 28, walked into the room wearing a vintage jumpsuit, a denim jacket and a black-and-white turban that she dressed with a large broach. Ms. Hamilton owned the room.
If I were this writer, I would be more concerned with owning a dictionary than owning the room. The jewelry she's describing--a brooch--isn't spelled correctly, but phonetically here.  ("Broach" is more often used to refer to an opening: To broach a topic in conversation or open a closed space or box.)  Sadly, crimes against homonyms run rampant in the land.  Here are a couple of favorites I've been collecting:
The problem for you? People like me stop reading, immediately, when you make this kind of mistake. It's too jarring if you know the correct spelling, because (most of the time), your misspelled homonym means something so completely different that it stops me in my tracks.

This is one of those writing skills that really does get learned through memorization. (Sorry, kids.) Thus, I can point you to lists of homonyms to review over your lunch hour; background on how they differ from other, similar word forms; and even a useful series of self-quizzes.  But in the end, you'll need to know the difference by memorizing.  These are the proofing devils that spell-check won't catch, my friends.  Make it work.

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