Let’s look at commonly misspelled words.

April 29, 2007

I’ve analyzed the search terms that have been sending people my way over the past few weeks. Most of them fall under these three umbrellas:

  • Avoid grammar errors
  • Check your paper for plagiarism
  • Good writing

Apparently, you people just want me to help you cheat on your homework. That’s fine. This post should help anyone who is ever asked to write something without the use of Microsoft’s spellcheck.

A professor of mine gave us a spelling test the other day. I haven’t been asked to take a spelling test since 5th grade–when I was sent to regionals for the spelling bee, not to toot my own horn or anything. Out of 50 commonly misspelled words, I got eight wrong and had to seriously think about another handful. Perhaps going over a few of these words will help me, and others, learn how to finally spell them correctly. Some of these words I personally spelled wrong, some are ones I see misspelled when I tutor writing, and some are just interesting words. No, I won’t tell you which are which.

(Warning: This is about as dorky as one can get with words. So sue me, I think words are fun!)

Supersede – Commonly seen as “supercede” because of the prevalence of other words ending in or otherwise using the suffix -cede, such as antecedent, concede, precede. “Cede,” to yield, give way to, confuses the matter further, and to make matters worse, the spelling of “supersede” has fluctuated between “s” and “c” over the years.
“Supersede” means “to supplant, to take the place of” but literally means “to sit above.” If I remember that the “-sede” comes from the same root as “sedentary” it may be easier to spell.

Separate – This is just cake, really. The word comes from “to make ready, prepare” according to the Oxford English Dictionary, but why this would be so is beyond me. Luckily, you can just memorize the saying passed down from my father, who is even more of a nerd than I am: “There is a rat in separate.”

It works. Don’t knock it.

(Bonus points for looking up my dad’s other dorky phrase, which he did not coin but uses a lot nonetheless: “Nothing propinks like propinquity.”)

Desiccate – Commonly misspelled “dessicate” because, heck, it just sounds better. This is probably because no other common English words draw on the Latin root, “siccus,”¬† meaning “dry.” “Exsiccation” refers to the action of drying what is moist, like desiccate, or can mean “absolute dryness,” but I don’t think I’ve ever seen this word used. However, “hortus siccus” (dry garden) seems to be a somewhat common phrase in modern use.

Receive – “I before E except after C.” (See also: conceive, deceive.) The Latin for this word is “re” plus “capere,” “to take,” so I’m going to blame the French for changing the vowels. (When in doubt, blame the French.)

Liquefy – This is a fun one. “Liquid” has a second “i” in it, so why not “liquify”?
God I wish I knew. This word, meaning “to make liquid,” has always been spelled with an “e,” according to the OED. It’s just one of those words that must be memorized.

I think five is enough for now. What do you guys think about this type of post? I’ve got plenty more words I could post about, believe me.

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3 Responses to “Let’s look at commonly misspelled words.”

  1. Brie Dodson Says:

    Eleemosynary, my dear Watson.

    (Speaking of eleemosynary, I hope you’ll soon write about single words that can have contradictory meanings, too.)

  2. Chris Combs Says:

    Words, words, words! More words, please! (You still have some.)

    Howsabout words that noone actually understands, such as “fecund”? (And I hope you can work “fungible” in to something.)

  3. Chris Combs Says:

    Are you a wordie? I think I am.


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