The Prompter Room

For Saturday, April 9, 2016:


“Yes, English can be weird.  It can be understood through tough thorough thought, though.”

Unattributed meme on Facebook

For some reason, I’ve seen one particular word misspelled several times in the last couple of weeks, so I thought I would address that today, as well as a couple of others that seem to be regular trouble for many folks.

The word I’ve seen most recently – in books and online – is intended to be ‘strait,’ as in ‘straitjacket.’  The way it’s been spelled, though, is ‘straight.’  They’re both pronounced the same, so the mistake is understandable.

The definitions differ, obviously, and to add some confusion, ‘strait(s)’ is also used for geographical identification – the Straits of Hormuz, for instance – and to indicate someone is in ‘dire straits.’

‘Straight,’ of course, means an unimpeded course or direction – ‘you go straight through the town,’ or ‘she shot straight to the top of the promotion list,’ for instance.

An easy way to remember the difference between the two is to think of ‘strait(s)’ as someone who or something that is constricted in some way because we remove the ‘gh’ from the spelling.

Unfortunately, not every word that’s tricky to spell is as easy to differentiate or remember.  Another set of words that gives folks trouble is ‘lead,’ ‘lead,’ and ‘led.’  Here’s the trouble: ‘led’ is the past tense of ‘lead,’ as in ‘I need someone to lead me through the store,’ but ‘He led me through the store.’

Too many people write ‘lead’ for the past tense in this case because they pronounce it the same way we say the mineral ‘lead.’  (To add to the confusion and to make matters worse, we pronounce the past tense of ‘read’ the same way we do the mineral.)  But the lead that’s in paint or, sadly, too many water pipes, or the lead we want someone to get out – ‘get the lead out’ – when they need to hurry is not the same as ‘led’ for past tense.  Perhaps it would help to think of the past tense ‘led’ as leaving the ‘a’ behind.

Yes, English can be – and is – tough sometimes.  And more than a little confusing.  Sometimes we can use little tricks to remember the intricacies of spelling this strange, weird language, but other times there are no easy helps.  But that’s one reason we have editors, eh?


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