What is the most misspelled word in the English language?
It is an interesting question, and one that is harder to answer than it might appear at first glance. We should be able to use the all-knowing Internet to search for instances of misspellings, and compare the number of instances of the correct spelling. But it is not always easy to isolate the misspelling.
Dr. Boli has often suggested that the most misspelled word in the English language is led, the simple past and past participle of the verb “to lead.” It is very often spelled “lead,” by confusion with the identically pronounced metal, and by analogy with “read,” another strong verb whose change in pronunciation from present to past is exactly the same as the change from “lead” to “led.”
But how do we isolate the misspelling “lead” for the past tense from the perfectly correct spelling of the present tense? Dr. Boli has hit on one method: he searched on the phrase “has lead to,” in which “lead” is very unlikely to be meant for the present tense or (for that matter) the metal. We can probably assume that the ratio of misspelling to correct spelling in this unambiguous phrase will be just about the same as the ratio in other uses of the word. These are the results from Google:
“has lead to”: About 45,500,000 results
“has led to”: About 491,000,000 results
Can we find any other word where the ratio of misspelling to correct spelling is higher?
Here is one very unscientific “study” that picks “separate” (often spelled “seperate”) as the most misspelled word. But here are the results from Google:
“seperate”: About 37,000,000 results
“separate”: About 465,000,000 results
Close, but not as often misspelled as “led.”
How about “definitely”?
“definately”: About 34,600,000 results
“definitely”: About 432,000,000 results
So far, “definitely” is running behind. But if we add some other common misspellings of the word, it begins to pick up speed:
“definatly”: About 4,680,000 results
“definitly”: About 4,440,000 results
Adding up those three common misspellings, we come up with 43,720,000 misspelled instances against 432,000,000 correctly spelled instances—a ratio of almost exactly 1 to 10. “Definitely” wins by a nose—which is especially impressive considering that misspellings of “definitely” will trip a spelling-checker, whereas the common misspelling of “led” will not.
Provisionally, then, we may regard “definitely” as the most misspelled word in the English language. But we simply cannot leave it at that. Dr. Boli calls on all the pedants out there (and surely there must be a few pedants in Dr. Boli’s audience) to contribute to this important research project. By combining the power of our brains and our endless hours of idle leisure, we can establish once and for all which word in English is the most misspelled. Then we can take corrective action.
(A helpful searching hint: if you use Google to search for misspelled words, remember to put them in quotation marks.)