What fun we have had with spelling! The correspondence is rolling in thick and fast with even more candidates for “most misspelled word.”

“Rabe” suggests “‘affect’ and ‘effect’? But I don’t know how to ask for it.”

The answer, of course, is that you ask politely. Then you think of a way to outwit Google. Dr. Boli tried an experiment:

“does not effect”: About 37,200,000 results

“does not affect”: About 511,000,000 results

This search is not perfect: effect is a perfectly legitimate verb (“I hope to effect some change in their behavior”), but rarely used. In this case, however, the inaccuracy is irrelevant. Even assuming that every use of “does not effect” is wrong, you’re, definitely, and led still beat “affect” in our ranking.

Except for a grammar site explaining the difference between “affect” and “effect,” the top-ranked site for “does not effect” was the Facebook page “Chewing gum does not effect my learning at school,” whose “about” page elaborates: “You don’t need to be a genius to know that chewing gum does not effect your learning at school.” Dr. Boli has a snippet of anecdotal evidence to the contrary. (Unless, of course, the writer meant “effect” in the perfectly correct sense of “bring about,” in which case, brava, anonymous young woman on Facebook! You are indeed correct in saying that chewing gum does not cause learning to happen.)

If you’d like to have some fun in the other direction, try “has no affect.”

Jared writes: “Incredibly, hors d’oeuvre is spelled appetizer nearly three quarters of the time.” To which Horace Jeffrey Hodges adds: “And the Germans usually misspell ‘hors d’oeuvre’ as ‘Vorspeise’!

Dr. Boli might add that the Italians leap into the melee with antipasto, which gives us another category of misspelling to deal with: foreign terms commonly used in English. Antipasto is very commonly spelled antipasta in Pittsburgh Italian restaurants. When pasta meets antipasta, is the result an earth-shattering kaboom? Evidently not.

Also in the category of foreign terms often misspelled: the abbreviation etc., which is often spelled ect. and pronounced “eck cetera.”

Meanwhile, Greybeard asks, “What about differences in regional dialects? While I currently live on this side of the pond, I used to live on that side of the pond. Even though I no longer live on that side of the pond, I frequently colour my speech by adding a ‘u’ to certain words just for the humourous effect.”

We must obviously make a distinction between misspellings and legitimate alternate forms. It might be possible to argue that colour is a misspelling if the writer is not consistent in applying the same rule to humour, honour, rumour, and so on, but it would not be worth the trouble. There are also certain words that are variable even in American usage: gray and grey, for example, or judgment and judgement, where one form is more common but both are correct. (The computer spelling-checker is rapidly propagating the notion that there can be only one legitimate spelling of any word, and it is likely that the less-used alternatives will be considered as un-American as “colour” within a generation.)

On the same subject, “creeper” picks “‘cancelled,’ hands down.” But here is another case of regional difference: “cancelled” is correct in most other English-speaking countries, but the most common American spelling is “canceled,” although the double L is also legitimate, as Merriam-Webster told us a hundred years ago: “Cancel v. i. [imp. & p. p. Canceled or Cancelled; p. pr. & vb. n. Canceling or Cancelling.]”

The question of regional dialects is an interesting one in the scientific study of misspelling. Misspellings often reflect pronunciation; and, as pronunciation varies, so must misspellings. In Pittsburgh, “the Galapagos Islands of American dialect” (as one national newspaper famously called it), there is a strong tendency to shorten long vowels, so that meal is indistinguishable from mill and sale hard to distinguish from sell. Thus we often see “FOR SELL” or “MUST SALE NOW” in classified ads—mistakes that would be simply baffling in an area where the distinction in pronunciation is strong.

“RKae” writes, “I would’ve guessed ‘its.’ (Or should I say, ‘would of’ guessed…?)”

“change it’s spots”: About 236,000 results

“change its spots”: About 2,380,000 results

The ratio here is almost exactly 1 to 10, which is (surprisingly) not nearly as high as your for you’re.

Dr. Boli tried an experiment in the other direction, but ran into a serious difficulty. Google searches URLs as well as text, and most software that automatically generates URLs from titles (such as the WordPress software Dr. Boli himself uses) strips the apostrophes. If you write an article called “It’s Not About the Money,” the WordPress-generated URL will include “its-not-about-the-money.” A majority of the top results for “its not about” were sites where the writer knew perfectly well how to spell it’s, but the URL stripped out the apostrophe. This observation also means that the number of correct spellings of its in “change its spots” may be slightly overestimated.


  1. Captain DaFt says:

    I realize that it’s just a personal conceit*. but I’ve always considered ”grey’ and ‘gray’ as two different shadings.

    Grey is the color of gloom, as in, “A grey cloud hovered over him, no matter where he went.”

    While gray is a light, cheerful shading, as in, “That gray kitten is adorable!”

    *’conceit’ is another word that is widely misspelled since it violates the “‘I’ before ‘e'” rule.

    Note: Please forgive any misspellings.

  2. Speaking (or, better, writing) of misspellings:

    To which Horace Jeffrey Hodges adds: “And the Germans usually misspell ‘hors d’oeuvre’ as ‘Vorspeise’!

    That should be “Jeffery” . . . though some traditionalists perhaps would argue that the proper spelling of my name is improper.

    There should also be a closing double quotation mark, but let’s not make too much of that since these posts are about spelling (although some misspellings seem to involve mispunctuation).

    Jeffery Hodges

    * * *

  3. Dr. Boli says:

    It would be almost embarrassing to run a whole series of articles on misspellings without misspelling something. To misspell someone’s name is particularly embarrassing, of course. Karmic retribution accomplished.

  4. Tom Ball says:

    I have noticed a tendency in some segments of American society to misspell the names of businesses in a way that suggests a European influence, apparently hoping by this to borrow some “class” where it was otherwise wanting. For example: “Auto Reclamation Centre”, “The Shoppes at Fenpool”, or “Cicada Pointe”

  5. Speaking of points, where’s the point after “Pointe”– or is this a pointless question?

    Jeffery Hodges

    * * *

  6. Julie says:

    Conceit will still fit the ‘i’ before ‘e’ accept after ‘c’ extended rule I learned in school.

    (Yes. Except.)

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