English Plus+ News, January 2002
So you think your spell checker helps? Most of the time it does, but there are some words which were seldom misspelled when people used dictionaries--but now they are commonly misspelled because of the nature of spell checkers.
Now a spell checker can actually help with a problem like that a little bit. There is no word in English spelled thier. Therefore, a spell checker can point out that error and the writer can correct it. However, we can see there are limitations to what the spell checker can do. If a writer spells there when their is meant, most spell checkers will pass right over that mistake because there is a word. It is just the wrong word!
The word coarse is an English word. It is not nearly as common in everyday use as course, but it is a word. It means "thick" or "crude." But if writers misspell of course and the checker gives them a choice of words, they still may have to look the word up if they don't know the difference between course and coarse. Let's face it. Many times we do not bother looking up words when we should. So we guess or for some other reason choose the wrong suggested word. I have noted a few other "new" misspellings.
If you think about it a bit, you can understand that a lot is two words. First of all, sometimes we make a plural out of it, and we drop the a. We may say, "There were a lot of people at the game." We could also say, "There were lots of people at the game." When we say lots we put lot in the plural. We do not say a lots.
Also, we sometimes add an adjective to describe the word lot. It always goes between the a and the lot. Probably the best known example is the song by rock pioneer Jerry Lee Lewis entitled "There's a Whole Lot of Shakin' Goin' On." He did not sing, "There's Whole a Lot of Shakin'..."
The word allot is a verb which means "to divide up or distribute shares." The noun form is allotment.
In the last ten years, I have seen a new misspelling I never used to see. I have seen it spelled viscous. Viscous is also a word in English, but it is a technical term and is not very common in everyday speech. It is an adjective describing a thick fluid. Still, I now occasionally read about a "viscous murder" or a "viscous killer." People using the spell checker must be looking for something that begins with vis and viscous looks the closest. Sometimes vicious may not even be an option the checker gives if the writer begins his or her misspelling with vis.
If this has been a problem for you. Now you know.
What has happened now something new. Now I see the word frequently spelled disparate. That is a different word with a completely different meaning and pronunciation. Again, like viscous, it is not a very common word and many people are not familiar with it. So when they see it as a choice on a spell checker, it looks close.
The word disparate means "distinctive, different," or "various." It is not so much a technical term; it is simply not a word that is used frequently by most people. It does appear in most spell checkers and dictionaries, so now it gets confused with a word that it never used to get confused with. The second syllable is accented and pronounced like pair.
Defuse is simply the word fuse plus the prefix de-. It literally means "to remove a fuse," just like declaw means "to remove the claws." It is often used figuratively in the sense of resolving a conflict or easing a difficult situation. It may be used in politics or diplomacy in this figurative way, so you do come across it in the news from time to time.
Diffuse as the adjective means either "wordy" or "spread out." As a verb it means "to pour or spread out." If a diplomat is "diffusing a difficult situation," he is stirring it up or spreading it out. That is rarely what diplomats are instructed to do. It would not be very diplomatic!
These words are only distantly related and were not normally confused until the advent of the spell checker.
May all your anguish be vanquished,
Your friends at English Plus+