I will be the first to admit that I am a sloppy editor where my own work is concerned. I often overlook mistakes that an editor would easily spot. I am not alone in this either, as it’s common for writers to miss mistakes in their own work because they are reading what should be there, and not what actually is there.
You can often remedy this by reading slowly or by using the “Talk” function on your word processor to get you computer to read it back to you. But even then, mistakes can still go unnoticed, and some of these are caused by your spell checker.
If you know what mistakes to look out for, then you can fix them quickly. Depending on how you write, how quick you are and how sloppy you are, you’ll make some of these mistakes more than others, and you might have a particular one that you always make. The good thing is that there is an easy fix.
Just hold down the CTRL key and press “F”. You can then click on “Find and Replace”, before entering the wrong word and then the right word. You can also use this to change punctuation. I once used it to convert double punctuation marks (American standard) to single ones (UK standard) in a novel of mine, and I also used it on a client’s novel to find instances where he had incorrectly used “its” instead of “it’s”, which is something that he did a lot.
The point is, although they might seem amateurish to outsiders, we all have mistakes that we make much more than others, and usually they consist of one or more of the following:
Saliva vs Salvia
One of the very first novels I wrote had a few instances where I had used the word “Salvia” instead of “Saliva”. I was writing quickly and making a lot of mistakes, and this was one of the more confusing changes that spell check made as it tried to intervene.
As many of you will know, “Salvia” is not just a nonsensical word. It is a very powerful hallucinogenic drug. And when you’re writing about people’s mouths being full of it, people spitting it out, etc., it can raise a few eyebrows.
Definitely vs Defiantly
For whatever reason, a lot of first-time authors and students struggle with the word “Definitely”, assuming that there is an “A” in there. This means that the word they produce is often closer to “Defiantly”, which is what spell check assumes they are trying to write.
If you’re not paying attention, this is a hard mistake to spot. I worked with many first-time authors as a tutor on a creative writing course and this mistake was made by at least 25% of them.
Chester Drawers vs Chest Of Drawers
There are a surprising number of people who think that a unit of furniture that consists of several drawers is known as a “Chester Drawers”, perhaps assuming that it’s a brand name. It’s actually “Chest Of Drawers”, but don’t worry, I know at least one published (and very successful) author who used to think otherwise.
Supposedly vs Supposably
This seems to be more common in certain areas and even in certain countries, which suggests that it has a lot to do with dialect. Simply put, “Supposably” does not mean “Supposedly” and should not be used in its place. Or at all.
It is a real word, which is why your spell checker won’t pick up on it. The problem is that the people who use it want to say “Supposedly”, either thinking that the two are the same, or simply mistaking one word for the other. You will find “Supposably” in the dictionary, but you will lose a lot of respect with your readers if you use it, even if you use it correctly. So, it’s best to avoid it.
Kindergarten vs Kindergarden
I have seen the word “Kindergarden” referred to as an Anglicized version of “Kindergarten”, which is a word with Germanic origin. However, many dictionaries don’t even recognize this and everyone seems to use “Kindergarten” anyway.
I think that this mistake is more common here in the UK, where we don’t have Kindergarten and where the only references we have for it are from US TV shows and films. From there it is misheard and misunderstood, and the mistake spreads.
Duct Tape vs Duck Tape
Spell check will not tell you that “Duck Tape” is a mistake, because it’s still a real word. However, the word you’re looking for is “Duct Tape”. It’s not quite that simple though and it’s easy to see why this mistake is so common. Perhaps exploiting this misunderstanding, there is a brand of duct tape that goes under the name Duck Tape, and the very first time this tape was used, back in the Second World War, it was known by the nickname “Duck Tape”.
Still, that doesn’t make it anymore correct and the term is definitely “Duct Tape”.
Poor Word Choice
When it comes to using the wrong word, the most common mistake I encounter is simply poor word choice. This is far more common in novice authors, as they try their best to use as many words as possible and inevitably end up using many words that don’t fit.
A few examples:
“He entered the room and noticed the stench of sweet roses”
“Stench” means “Bad Smell” and has “Stink” as a synonym, so it’s not to be used where pleasant smells are concerned. “Smell” or “Fragrance” would be better.
“He teetered happily along the path”
Don’t assume that all synonyms for “Walk” or “Run” apply. Writers often make this mistake, picking a word that sounds good as opposed to one that fits the scene they’re trying to describe. In this case “Teeter” means to walk unsteadily, and unless he’s drunk or injured, this will not fit.
In general, you should avoid searching for synonyms and using words that you don’t know just because they sound good. Not only can this lead to words that don’t fit and sentences that don’t make sense, as mentioned above, but it can also lead to archaic words being used, and words that your readers just won’t understand. If you don’t know it and you’re not willing to learn it, then don’t use it.