Saturday, 14 August 2010

About Spelling

I am picky at times, and can fastidiously be in clever-clogs-mode, as almost everyone who is in close personal contact with me - be it at work or at home - will readily testify.
One particular area where my rather unreasonable drive for perfection becomes truly annoying at times is spelling.

Spelling and grammar errors are so common I really should not bother with them at all, and I sometimes wish I wasn't so well trained in spotting them - no matter the language (as long as I know it, of course!).
For almost ten years, I worked at a publisher's. We edited and printed 60 weekly newspapers of small communities throughout South Germany, and my responsibility were the adverts.
Now, of course we had our own team of proof readers, but sometimes we were short staffed, and when that happened, I proof-read. Never the adverts that I had typeset myself - Proof Readers Golden Rule No. 1 says, Thou shalt not proof-read your own stuff. Someone else's eyes will usually spot the ortographical or grammatical error commited by the writer or typesetter who, more often than not, will fail to realize the error him- or herself.

Having said that, for my blog, I have to be my own proof-reader. And even though I always read my entries at least twice before clicking on "publish post", every now and then I re-read an older piece and still find the odd typo.
(So, please do point them out to me if you find them, ok?)

What prompted me into writing this is something I saw today when I was walking along one of the main shopping streets of my home town. Within a distance of only a few footsteps from each other, two errors caught my attention, both on handwritten blackboards on the pavement outside the shops.
One was at a telephone shop, and the notice on the board read

1 Vertrag -
3 Handy's

Now, if you do not speak German, you won't understand what's wrong here, but, in short, it should have been Handys, not Handy's, as the apostrophe is completely out of place here.

The other one was in front of a coffee bar, announcing

Coffee to go
1,50.- Euro

Nothing wrong there? Wrong. The .- is supposed to be a place holder for what comes behind the comma - in those cases where there is nothing behind the comma. If the price for that coffee had been 1,00 Euro, they could have written 1.- Euro. But digits behind the comma and the .- is simply wrong.
(I told you I am a fastidious and annoying nerd when it comes to such detail.)

To make up for my unnecessary rant, let me point you to the
blog of a friend of mine who writes in a most entertaining manner about the typical errors, false friends and minor and major mishaps that can (and do) happen in the world of writing and translating.


  1. Meks, I am so with you on that! Though, being from the U.S., I never would have caught those particular errors you mention. But when it comes to the English language, I am very annoyingly particular as well. But, like you, I have a hard time catching my own errors. Thank goodness for spell check, and Microsoft Word!!!! :)

  2. Thanks, Mel - I am not the only ortography-nerd around after all :-D

  3. But shouldn't it be Handies, correctly? Like babies, ladies?
    I am not English, but so we learnt at school. ;-)

  4. The "-ies" is the correct plural ending for English words ending on "-y", yes, but in correct English, there would be no "Handy" there in the first place - it would be mobiles or mobile phones :-)
    Since the word Handy is so established in German, Handys is OK for plural - but Handy's certainly is NOT.

  5. Being from Australia I'm afraid that I wouldn't have picked up on either of those punctuation errors. :)

    Personally I find the spelling in English to be somewhat bemusing, what with being able to have the same spelling with multiple sounds or the same sound with multiple spellings.

    And what's with -a-e words like 'lane', 'take' or 'fame'? Surely the vowel sound is over and done with before the consonant, so what is the 'e' doing separate from the sound that it produces?

    Possibly language is innately messy enough to begin with.

  6. Warwick, I am sure your question is easy to answer for any professional linguist; I have never thought about this one, admittedly.
    If language is something you find fascinating, I can recommend Scriptor Senex to you. His blogs are entertaining, informative and inspiring at the same time. Just look for him under the blogs that I am following :-)