We think it was Mark Twain who said, “Better to keep silent and let people just think you’re an idiot than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.” That could be true in writing as well. Sometimes people write cute words and expressions but manage to bungle the spelling or the application. If you write the following, be sure to show them correctly.
- straitjacket, not straightjacket.
- subjunctive mood, not mode. Example: If I were a rich man, I wouldn’t have to work so hard.
- blonde is a noun for females, but blond is a noun for males. It’s also an adjective for males and females.
- The subject is moot, not mute.
- Styrofoam is a trademark, so cap it. Consider using “plastic foam” instead.
- sputnik is simply Russian for satellite. Cap when following with a figure, as in Sputnik 2.
- Josef Stalin, not Joseph.
- Adolf Hitler, not Adolph.
- space shuttle, lower case alone, but capitalize a proper name, e.g., Discovery.
- bail, bale. You bail out a boat by scooping buckets of water, and you do so with a bail; you bail out of a plane in a parachute; you bail someone out of jail. You bale hay; you load a bale of paper into a printer.
- Cape Canaveral, not Cape Kennedy. But Kennedy Space Center.
- Philippines, not Phillippines. The people are Filipinos, the language is Pilipino (AP) or Filipino (M-W).
- Parkinson’s disease, not Disease.
- gibe, jibe. To gibe means to taunt or sneer. Jibe means to agree. Dead wrong: Your story does not jive. Correct: Your story does not jibe with the facts.
- flair, flare. Flair is conspicuous talent. Flare is a flame.
- flier, flyer. Flier is an aviator or a handbill. Flyer is the proper name of some trains and buses. If you fly a lot for your job, you are a frequent flier.
- A dilemma is a choice between two unattractive alternatives, not simply a problem.
- Btu for British thermal unit, not BTU.
- I feel bad, not badly (unless your fingers are damaged).
- He is averse to the idea of fighting, not adverse.
- Adverse weather conditions at the Kennedy Space Center will keep the shuttle orbiting for at least one more day.
- I couldn’t care less, not I could care less. If I could care less, then my care is at least measurable. To say I couldn’t care less indicates my level of care is too small to measure. (More on this here.)
- We had a face-to-face meeting. We met later in the elevator and again were face-to-face. (Hyphenate as a compound adjective and a compound adverb, according to Merriam-Webster. But AP style insinuates no hyphenation as an adverb.)
- I sent an up-to-date memo to George. I want to keep him up to date.
ALSO SEE: Real time vs. Real-time