Ironic Grammar and Spelling Mistakes

Your comment about my grammar or spelling error had a grammer or speling error, my friend.

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Of the comments you all shared, the common thread was a strong opinion about some kind of grammar, spelling, usage or speech mistake that drives you bonkers.

Some of you will boycott a store with an express lane that specifies “10 items or less” rather than “10 items or fewer,” others of us are irked at the never-correct but ever-popular “between you and I,” and some bemoan the rise of the expression “don’t take it personal.”

Most interesting to me in reading the comments as they came in, though, was how many fell victim to a phenomenon that old-timers on the internet are familiar with, even if we may not have known what it’s called.

Welcome to Muphry’s Law.

You read that right. Muphry’s, not Murphy’s Law.

Murphy’s Law is the one that says “anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.”

Muphry’s law, as you might guess from the clever name, applies a similar concept to typos, grammar and proofreading.

It says that “if you write anything that criticizes someone’s spelling, editing or proofreading, there will be some kind of spelling, editing or proofreading fault in what you have written.”

There are other similar terms for this phenomenon; my favorite is called the Iron Law of Nitpicking which says that “you are never more likely to make a grammatical error than when correcting someone else’s grammar.”

Ain’t that the truth? It obviously is for me.

Here are some of the funniest of the comments that illustrate Muphry’s Law:

  • “You’re kidding, right? This is 4th grade grammer.” I think fourth-grade spelling is next on the agenda.
  • One reader noticed a typo I made (which I fixed, so no need to go hunting for it), but countered with a typo of their own when writing: “I suggest editing the article to say ‘Quality is far more important that quantity’ rather than the current ‘Quality is far more important than quality.'” Can you spot the mistake?
  • This was passionately followed up with another commenter:“Wrong! Quality is fat more important. Get an editor!” Is an editor the one to put quality on a diet?
  • Some took exception to my headline. “Among the most egregious errors is the use of the word “dumb” when you mean “stupid” What was that about glasshouses?” Well, for one, the word “dumb” does indeed mean stupid, and I don’t think I ever mentioned  glass houses, but if I had, it would have been two words. And I’d have put a period at the end of a sentence. It would have gone inside the quote marks around “stupid.” So there.
  • The level of frustration at poor grammar and spelling is high among our readers, but some commenters might want to work on their own writing first. How many errors can you find in this one? “I see poor grammer every where. Accessories is pronounced assessories. leaves and shelves pronounced leafs and shelfs. The your and you’er drives me mad.”
  • One reader shared, “Spelling is quite atrocious and I often wonder what sort of education young people are recieving.” Yes, I agree. Now, go look up how to spell “receiving,” please.
  • In response to my categorization of errors as “bad grammar and spelling” we have the comment that consisted entirely of “duh its poor grammer, bad is a judgement call.” All right then. It is my judgment call that you have misspelled two words in one sentence, used “its” incorrectly, and should have used a semicolon where you put the comma. (Apologies if you are British, where “judgement” is acceptable, so that would would be one spelling error.)
  • One reader offered, “The one that makes my teeth knaw is SEPERATE…. it is SepArate. I see this misspelled even in sophisticated newspapers and magazines. UGR.” I concur with the frustration of people misspelling “separate,” but I’m wondering if perhaps I am not sophisticated enough to know what the heck knaw is. Or UGR.
  • I do appreciate the reader who (very rightly) corrected my error by writing: “…the standars for a blog or a comment in a blog are different FROM printed materials…” Honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever thought about whether it’s “from” or “than” before, but I researched and learned that 30% of American speakers use “different than” in their speech, versus just 7% who use it in writing. So that’s my defense; I write the same way I talk. I’ll pay better attention from now on, but the point here is that this reader still fell into the grips of Muphry’s Law with “standars.”

I’m not writing this to pick on anyone. I am in awe of the range of comments, and I appreciate every single one.

And of course, we all make mistakes. Sometimes we catch them, and sometimes we don’t. How much time we spend reviewing and editing our work depends on the situation and the acceptable margin of error. Your grocery list has a very wide margin of error. Your resume has a very narrow margin of error.

Occasional mistakes and typos are to be expected with the fast-response and fast-turnaround world of online comments and blogs. The “standars” for a blog are indeed less stringent than the standards for magazines, books or academic papers. Theoretically, blogs are here today and gone tomorrow.

The original point of the first blog in this series, remember, was that sometimes a small mistake can give the wrong impression, and if you’re on the hunt for a job, and it’s down to a very close decision a between you and a candidate who didn’t make any mistakes, that small slip could conceivably change the course of your life.

Nevertheless, the irony of Muphry’s Law is obvious with many of the more vocal complainers making the same mistakes they complain about. Yes, I know that sometimes includes me, too.

Now that you know about Muphry’s Law, I bet you’ll be noticing how often it happens.

Just please don’t let it keep you from commenting here, please. I love reading what everyone has to offer, typos and grammar errors and all.

Thanks to Leslie Ayres