Earaches: Words Can Hurt! by The Cantankerous Grammarian

Editor’s Note: Our Cantankerous Grammarian is back, and is he riled up!


People tend to write and speak words the way they hear them.

A friend suggested to me that many writing and speaking errors may come from non-readers, those who write and speak what they hear because they have not seen the words in print. The reverse of this problem would account for a sermon I once heard in which the pastor referred to the great writer AL-burt CAME-us (he meant Al-BEAR Cam-OO) — obviously he’d seen it in print, but not heard it spoken. There also are many words that give people difficulty with pronunciation. A third category of annoying words is colloquial speech.

Spelling Errors That Rankle!

  • complimentary and complementary
  • stationary and stationery (a good memory trick is that stationery is for writing letters, and letters contains an “e”)
  • then and than
  • it’s and its (only use an apostrophe if you would be saying “it is.” Case in point, you would never say “The raccoon was licking it is paws.”
  • your and you’re (ditto above)

Pronunciation Problems

I’m not talking the tomato/tomahto, ape-ricot/app-ricot, PEE-can/pah-CAHN variety of pronunciations as detailed in this hilarious video. I’m talking about just plain wrong.

  • etcetera and ekcetera
  • foie gras and “frog wah”
  • asterisk and asteriks
  • nuclear and nucular (a president perpetuated this one)
  • ask and aks
  • another and a nuther (two words)
  • should’ve and should of
  • vice versa and vice a versa

The Em-PHAS-is Is on the Wrong Syl-LA-ble

See time mark 1:35 in this movie clip for a hilarious example. Here are some more:

  • Re-PEAT and RE-peat
  • in-SUR-ance and IN-sur-ance
  • AFF-lu-ent and aff-LU-ent, and God forbid, effluent (which is just entirely WRONG)

Regional Madness

y’all, and (my favorite) all y’all

Where To Get Help

I guess the moral of this cautionary tale is that people might want to read more, and maybe also frequent YouTube and check pronunciation. There’s some fun to be had there, too, watching a parody of YouTube pronunciation tutorials.