Sunday, July 6, 2008

You might like words if . . .

. . . you own four English dictionaries, two style guides (okay, one's technically on loan), a thesaurus, a French-English dictionary and a rhyming dictionary . . .

. . . and you actually use them all.

How can I possibly use them when every computer comes with a built-in dictionary and thesaurus and often a grammar checker? Easy. There are things that the computer just doesn't catch. I do use those computer functions, but I don't rely on them exclusively.

I work sometimes as a freelance copy editor. A publication will have a house style and that includes following a particular dictionary. It goes without saying that I'd better have that same dictionary. I have never yet been told that that dictionary is Microsoft Word. I repeat, Not yet.

Words can have more than one correct spelling. The one that gets published comes down to the dictionary the publisher decides to follow. Canadian spellings freak out my computer software. Red lines everywhere! And computer dictionaries don't catch when a word's spelling depends on the meaning intended or how the word is used in the particular sentence. Think: they're, their, or there. They are all spelled correctly so a spell check wouldn't flag this as wrong: There party is they're on the street where their doing construction.

Sorting out spellings and meanings and grammar rules can be a headache. You definitely have to like obsessing about this stuff. But there's this awesome moment of triumph when you zero in on a typo and then blast it from the face of the paper or screen forever. Gotcha! Hah! You just have to hope the 95 percent rule kicks in when you miss one (you know, the one that says 95 percent of people reading it won't have noticed).

Some things I've had to wrestle with recently:

Is it raccoon or racoon?

phosphorus or phosphourus?

give away or giveaway?

awhile or a while?

through, threw, or thru?

compliment or complement?

affect or effect? (I hate that one!)

and finding the use of "jester" where "gesture" was what was needed put me in a good mood for hours.

But don't assume then that this blog is free from typos or grammar mistakes, okay? 'Cause while I try to be correct if I had to obsess over that stuff here too I'd never ever get around to posting.

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