A former colleague who writes for a newspaper recently posted on Facebook about a reader’s harsh voice mail message pointing out a typo in one of his features. The reader objected to “signer [instead of singer] Delbert McClinton.” As another former colleague commented, that typo isn’t going to be picked up by running an ordinary spellchecker. Almost every comment in the thread expressed disbelief that a reader would take time to call and berate the writer over such a minor typo, but as one who took such calls, I can attest that readers can be cranky to the point of becoming unhinged over typos.
I was proud that I noticed the typo when I read the story onscreen before the writer identified it, but I could have easily missed the word if I had copy-edited that piece. It’s all too easy to overlook words that are spelled right but are not the right word—especially those words that differ by only one or two letters. I like to think that having years of experience helps me spot such typos, but I might have noticed that one only because it was in front of the name of a favorite singer. (By the way, I just typed signer first.)
The Facebook post reminded me that I had long planned to publish a blog post about those common lookalikes. I call them “double-take words” because you should take a second look at them when you are copy-editing or proofing. If you have editing software or macros that flag such words, that’s great. But if you don’t or if you just wish to sharpen your eye for typos, keeping these pairs in mind can help you avert a nasty note from a reader.
Here is my continuing list:
And here is your special treat, a link to a video of the great Delbert.
Update: Former colleagues and Facebook friends brought up these pairs:
Add your suggestions in the comments.