The Inglourious Basterds Of Online Publishing

With a title like this, you might think I plan to talk about ad blockers, or robots, or agency rebates. But no, today I want to take a mental break from these omnipresent topics and talk about spelling. Yes, s-p-e-l-l-i-n-g.

Quentin Tarantino’s film, whose title I borrowed for this blog, consists of two words, both of which are misspelled. When you are a leading movie-maker, you can get away with that. But if you make a living publishing content, misspellings are a sign of poor quality and can be a turn-off to persnickety readers like me.

With the advent of spellcheckers, which have become virtually ubiquitous within publishing platforms, most gross spelling mistakes can be avoided. Then there are typos that don’t show up in spellcheckers because the misspelled words are valid, such as accidental transpositions (“from” becomes “form”), missing letters (“gone” becomes “one”) and so on. But the real inglourious basterds, in my opinion, are certain word pairs that are pronounced the same way (or in some cases, nearly the same way) but are -- or at least, should be -- spelled differently.  In other words, homophones.



At the top of my list is the its-it’s pair -- as in, “It’s time to put that spellchecker in its place.” I recently saw a major publication (that shall rename nameless, and no, it’s not MediaPost) featuring a front-page article whose (not who’s!) title included the wrong flavor of its.

There are many, many more examples. Some, like your-you’re, are very common words and are rarely misspelled. Many others like desserts-deserts (the latter used in the sense of “he got his just deserts”) are much less common, and thus can be forgiven if occasionally misused. But in between, there is a plethora of word pairs that can challenge even the most diligent of editors.

Here are some examples that seem to be particularly troublesome, with sometimes-humorous effects -- you might say they tickle my humerus bone.

Capitol and capital. Very confusing that the capitol is typically found in state capitals, which are spelled with a capital letter.

Principal and principle. Speaking of capital, when you borrow some, you will pay both principal and interest. But as a matter of principle, I would not borrow it from your school’s principal.

Affect and effect. This is particularly confusing because both words can be either nouns or verbs, and the sentence “to affect something” is roughly synonymous with “to have an effect upon something,” while “to effect something” is unlikely to affect “someone’s affect.”

Discreet and discrete. It may seem indiscreet of me to suggest it, but mathematicians find it particularly easy to tell these words apart because they work with discrete functions.

Peel, peal, pair, pare and pear. I can peel a pair of pears with a paring knife without causing peals of laughter (unless I cut myself doing so).

Hoard and horde. You can hoard all the pears you just peeled, or you can be generous and share them with the hordes.

Bare, bear, born and borne. I have borne the burden of being born in Italy, but I bear myself bravely when facing a bear, unless I am standing bare in the woods.

Boar, bore, boor. Speaking of wild animals, whether you meet them in the forest or on your dinner plate, boars are almost never a bore – but boors can be.

Complement and compliment. I hope you will do the latter in your comments below!

The list goes on and on: stake, steak, break, brake, layer, lair, lye, lie, whether, weather, and let’s not forget lets.

But lest anyone accuses me of being critical without being constructive, I have an idea I would like to share — and if you should capitalize on it, I hope you will at least give me credit. How about a browser extension or an app that, when activated, scours my content for inglourious basterds, highlights them, and shows a brief definition?

This would give me the opportunity to check discretely weather I maid a misteak.

8 comments about "The Inglourious Basterds Of Online Publishing".
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  1. Amanda Simpson from MTS, October 29, 2015 at 3:40 p.m.

    That was such a great read.  This has taught me that I too have maid a misteak from time to time! 


  2. Paolo Gaudiano from Infomous, Inc., October 29, 2015 at 4:30 p.m.

    @Paula - yes, I agree. Most often this is used incorrectly in sentences like "John told you and I to check the spelling." My suggestion when there are two pronouns or names to try to see how it sounds if you remove the other name. In this case if you remove "you and" you would be left with "John told I to check the spelling" which of course sounds wrong.

  3. Paul Banas from Pregnancy Magazine Group, October 29, 2015 at 5:23 p.m.

    This is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to journalistic standards. But it does sting since old established journals, used to the luxury of editors and proofreaders, can't compete with new journalists whose (and not "who's) only credential is owning a Wordpress account. Do not despair however. Voice recognition will make writing almost obsolete within a generation, leaving only a few learned scribes to document what occured early in the 21st century. 

  4. Thomas Nobles from NewMedia Strategy, October 29, 2015 at 5:57 p.m.

    YES, you are right. I almost immediately discount the validity of what I am reading when I see these and other simple mistakes.  I'm not perfect, but knew every one of your examples. Its a shame that writers don't spend enough time proofing their work and even at staid publications, do editors even exist anymore to proof before press?

  5. Chuck Lantz from, network, October 29, 2015 at 6:33 p.m.

    As one of those who often sit and ponder the correctness of a missive I've just written, and then hit "send" without taking the time to check for any of the errors mentioned in this article, I was wondering if the guilt I feel from knowing that I might be wrong should be worth at least half-points when the Grammar Police kick down my door?

  6. Paolo Gaudiano from Infomous, Inc. replied, October 30, 2015 at 6:48 a.m.

    @Amanda, thank you!

    @Paul (and @Thomas) - was at a journalism event last night where Randall Stephenson, AT&T CEO, commented on how his company and media companies are similar in that they can no longer afford to do thorough testing of products before launch: send it out there and listen to the feedback from clients. Seems like a vaild point, and it made me wonder whether even the more establish outfits may be less inclined to be super-careful about editing for similar reasons. As to voice recognition, I sincerely hope your futuristic vision does not come to pass!

    @Chuck: I will add you to the list of prospective clients when the new app/extension is ready :-)

  7. Sue Weinman from EMG Marketing, October 30, 2015 at 5:08 p.m.

    My daughter is a writer and she has a favorite:  Escape Goat, sometimes called Excape Goat

  8. Paolo Gaudiano from Infomous, Inc., October 30, 2015 at 9:26 p.m.

    @Sue - I have seen it written both ways, though of course the correct spelling is "scapegoat." Also recently ran across a couple more I had forgotten: "tenet" (as in, a principle or a position), which I often see spelled "tenant," and just today I was reading a book (!) that used "cannon" when what they really meant was "canon" (which is actually almost synonymous to tenet).

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