Why do you write the wrong word ?

I don’t know about other bloggers on ChicagoNow, but I don’t have an editor. Since I don’t want to impose on anyone to proofread, my typos, fuzzy thinking, and grammatical errors are exposed for readers to snicker at. Sometimes I will reread a post of weeks before and catch an error. 

Last Monday I made an error that particularly embarrassed me because it was in a post offering grammar advice. I called a conjunction a contraction — not once but three times. In the same post I also discussed contractions (correctly) but didn’t catch that I’d used the same word for both conjunctions and contractions. It also escaped my notice that the grammar guides I consulted of course use the word conjunction correctly. 

I was grateful to reader barnes8934 for calling attention to the mistake, allowing me to correct it. I wished I had followed my instinct to ask an editor friend to look over the piece before it was published.

I know I don’t always make sense when speaking — a quizzical look on listeners’ faces clues me in. These occurrences haven’t bothered me a lot, but to write the wrong word multiple times and not notice it on rereading is concerning. Concerning not only because I made a living as an editor but also because a problem using words is an early sign of dementia. Maybe I’m making too much of a slipup, but if you’re an aging person who worries about dementia (and who doesn’t?), you’ll understand.

It’s a dubious comfort that other people have found themselves making similar mistakes. “I wanted to write ‘closed.’ I was thinking of that word, saying it in my head along with the sentence, but instead I wrote ‘clothes,”’ related a contributor to an online linguistics discussion. “This increasingly happens to me too as I age, so I’m also interested,” another person chimed in.

One of the discussants explained that the brain might choose a phonetically similar incorrect word because awareness and output are separate processes, and awareness “may miss that the output was distracted by a similarity and went on a tangent.” Conjunction and contraction are the same except for their four-letter middle syllables.

The discussion focused more on what the phenomenon is called — no agreement — than whether it is reason for worry and whether anything can be done about it. 

A freelance blog in the Washington Post addressed not only why such mistakes occur but also whether they can be prevented. “I know the rules for how these words should be used and spelled, and I’m sure most who make these mistakes know them, too,” author Andrew Heisel, a professional writer, wrote. “What I really wanted to know is why we make these slipups anyway.” 

When we’re typing, University of Wisconsin cognitive psychologist Maryellen MacDonald explained, the brain pays attention to pronunciation because it’s often a useful tool for spelling. “It’s not that [people] don’t know the difference between ‘are’ and ‘our’; it’s that the pronunciation of ‘our’ in the mind activates the spelling ‘our’ but also ‘are.’”  

Another cognitive psychologist, Tom Stafford of the University of Sheffield, told Heisel that habit produces mistakes. For instance, we are accustomed to typing the preposition to after going (“I am going to the grocery store”), so when we mean to express the less frequent also going, we type going to instead of going too. 

“Of course, people can and should proofread (a practice the brain complicates as well), but we can never fully curtail these slips,” Heisel wrote. “But if to err is human, so, too, it seems, is wishing you weren’t.” He concluded with urging people to be less blaming of themselves and others about these cognitive errors.

At least I got a blog post out of my embarrassing mistake.

*****

NO LINES FOR REAL ID

It seems that not long ago that we were hearing about people waiting in line for hours at Illinois driver’s services locations to get REAL IDs. As you know, REAL IDs will be needed to fly and to enter some federal facilities. The deadline has been extended to May 3, 2023, but with my driver’s license renewal coming up soon, I figured I’d get mine now.  

With tales of long waits in mind, I took a paperback to the Thompson Center, the driver’s services downtown Chicago location, on Tuesday. Surprise! There were no lines and no wait, and I was out in a half-hour. 

Also pleasant, for the first time since my late teens I do not have an eyeglasses restriction on my driver’s license. Cataract surgery improved my vision to almost 20/20. It’s nice to experience a gain in the senior years.

Filed under: Language use, Uncategorized

Comments

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  • Mistakes happen to the best of us. Whatever the reason. Best to accept them and move on. Think of the positive. You wrote, as a result, a very informative post.

  • In reply to Aquinas wired:

    I appreciate your supportive, upbeat comments. Thank you.

  • cataract surgery is definitely life changing. Good to know that the Drivers Facility @ Thompson center is still open for services.

  • Well, for once I'm glad I missed one of your posts -- the earlier one. But this has happened to me, too. I once wrote a post praising a book about superlatives and quoted from it -- and I used the wrong word, but still a valid word, in the quotation. The author left a comment the next day! Ugh! The spirit is willing, the flesh is weak, and commenters are here to help.

  • So interesting, Marianne. I’ll add that I believe I’m a good proof reader, but not of my ow writings.

  • In reply to JoAnnF:

    OWN writings. Ha!

  • Thanks for all the comments. I like getting them.

  • JoAnn, I thought you were making a joke with ow.

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