I’m a Word Dork (Word Nerd is Catchier but I Like Dork… or at Least I Did…)

June 25, 2019

I watched the Scripps National Spelling Bee on ESPN Sunday night. Does that make me a dork? Probably, but that’s okay. The kids in that contest are amazing. They study languages and word origins and memorize words. I’ve always been a good speller. I wish I had done what they’re doing.

SPELLING

Grammar is another forte. One day, when I was 8 or 10 years old, my older sister asked me why I wasn’t playing on the monkey bars with the kids next door. I told her they were mad at me because I corrected their grammar. She explained that this wasn’t a good way to make friends. My response: “but they were saying it wrong”.

I no longer correct people’s grammar, although I do cringe at times, and I don’t know why it bothers me so much. When I had a young writing staff, I insisted their memos and emails be error-free. They chafed at this, and would point out errors in emails from senior-level staff, but I told them that we, as writers, are held to a higher standard.

GRAMMAR

Other challenges arise, too. I was talking with a woman recently and realized I had used a few words that she didn’t understand. (You can tell by the look on someone’s face.) That’s a conundrum. Do you explain and make them feel stupid, rephrase with smaller words and chance being condescending, or ignore the fact that they have no idea what you just said? I chose the latter.

So, yes, I’m kind of a word snob. I’m also a beer snob but that’s another post. 😊 I consider it a hazard of my trade. Just like walking through a parking garage with an engineer friend who keeps pointing out cracks in the concrete or wants to know what kind of guardrail saved my car from going into a ravine when I was hit on the Ohio Turnpike. What kind of guardrail? Really? Or going to the movies with someone who works in production or direction. They point out all the inconsistences in costume, dialog, lighting, etc.

WORDS

 

On the other hand, my wordsmith friends and I believe we are allowed to make up words as we see fit. No one else can do it, just writers! Did I mention I used to read the dictionary for fun? Another dork-like quality.

I’ve worked with literacy councils in a couple different states and taught adults to read. I wonder if parents and teachers feel the same satisfaction I did when their kids sing the alphabet and start sounding out words and reading stories.

Words. Spelling. Grammar. Stories. Reading. Writing. They’ve drawn me in my whole life. Did I mention I also like math? I do. But words have always taken center stage.

Do you have any spelling or grammar stories to share? I’d love to hear from any other self-proclaimed word dorks.

p.s. I just googled “dork” to find the actual definition, and I’m horrified by the second definition so I hope no one else finds it.

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Proofreading: Top Do & Top Don’t

September 13, 2010

You’ve spent days or weeks writing your very important document, and it’s now time to publish it. But first it needs to be proofread.

Since you’ve spent so many hours writing and re-writing your document, you’re not the best person to proofread it. When you read things over and over, you tend to almost memorize them, and you’re less likely to see mistakes. You know what it “should” say, so you can even fill in words in your head that aren’t actually on the paper. This is especially tough for speed-readers, who can’t slow down their reading enough to catch mistakes. Some speed-readers routinely skip the smaller words; other speed-readers skip many more words.

If you have time, set it aside for a day or two, then take a fresh look at it. Or if you’re lucky, you have a proofreader in-house. Most of us don’t.

My solution? Read it backwards – out loud. And spell the words.

For example, if the sentence is “The sky is blue.”, read as follows:  blue, b-l-u-e, is, i-s, sky, s-k-y, the, t-h-e.

Proofreading backwards is very time-consuming, but it will catch any spelling errors or typos. It will not catch grammatical errors. I first learned this proofreading technique when working on technical journals.

You can also have someone read the document to you  – either backwards or forwards. For example: The, capital t-h-e, sky, s-k-y, is, i-s, blue, b-l-u-e, period.

Obviously, if you’re reading forward, you are more likely to catch grammatical errors.

And don’t, don’t, don’t rely on your computer’s spell checker and grammar checker. Use it as one tool, but don’t use it as your only tool. A spell checker can’t tell you if the word should be “too” or “to”. It won’t tell you if the word is “there” or “their”. The grammar checker may catch some of these words, but it won’t catch them all.

You may also want to REMOVE some words from your spell checker. For example, if you use the word “gape” frequently but have mistakenly typed it as “gap”, remove “gap” from your spell checker.

I learned this lesson the hard way.  Hopefully, after reading this post, you won’t.


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