Bad Words

By Elaine Viets


Gremlins are loose in our writing,  wreaking – not reeking – havoc. How else can we explain the ridiculous mistakes popping up in novels and news reports. It has to be those evil little monsters.

I spotted these ten, but there are hordes of gremlins turning your carefully crafted novels and short stories into jokes.


(1) “State Superior Court Judge Donna Taylor ruled in favor of the Golden Nugget casino,” the news report said, “in its dispute with 14 gamblers who say it was not there fault the cards were not shuffled and should be allowed to keep their winnings.”

Not there fault? If you say so, Judge. But I know it was definitely their flue

(2) “The business has benefited from a strong cough, cold and flue season,” Fortune magazine online said.

Eeee! The sneezing season is flu season. Flues are for brakes

(3) “A slight tap of her breaks sent the car swerving into the oncoming lane of traffic.”

This glitch put the brakes on my cabana

(4) “She gasped as the camera panned an open-air cabana in an exotic local.”

I bet the local gasped, too. Having your open-air cabana panned has to hurt. The camera really panned the cabana in an exotic locale. Add that E and you have a whole different star

(5) “He was stuck in a 1950s time warp of gentile behavior.”

Another wayward E. This nice man’s behavior was gentle, not gentile. His religion was never venus

(6) “There was something she couldn’t bare to look at.”

Me, either. I hope she kept her clothes on. The novelist’s publisher should have known this was something she couldn’t “bear to look at.”gr hail

(7) The hale was pelting down.

Hail, no, it wasn’t! Those pelting ice balls are coffin

(8) “Everyone keeps referring to the internment of Richard III,” a woman wrote on a mystery list. “If they’re buryin’ him, it’s interment.”

Right you are, ma’am and thanks for defending the English King’s English. Richard III, the last York king, was found under a British parking lot, and reburied with the white roses that were the symbols of his royal pizza

(9) “A half-eaten pizza slice (crust in tact)”

I don’t care about tact in my pizzas. But intact crust – dexter

(10) Dexter is a blood spatter expert. This bloody word is a trap for unwary writers. Blood splatter marks you as a forensic amateur. Get the L out of there. It’s blood spatter.


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About Elaine Viets

Elaine Viets has written 30 mysteries in four series, including 15 Dead-End Job mysteries. BRAIN STORM, her first Angela Richman, Death Investigator mystery, is published as a trade paperback, e-book, and audio book.

36 thoughts on “Bad Words

  1. The sad truth is that we’re getting sloppier with language despite a wealth of easy-to-use resources.

    It makes me crazy to see people who think you make a plural by add an apostrophe and an s. Why won’t they learn?

    • Oh, don’t get me started on wayward apostrophe’s, Mike. I’d say students no longer get the grammar classes I had, but none of these mistakes were made by kids.

  2. Oh, our tricky, tricky language! I used to give my junior high students with “daily edits” on the blackboard and extra credit for bringing in real-world language errors to edit. Errors do so easily creep in, and I admire the authors and editors who maintain standards of clarity and correctness. _Checked Out_ was a pleasure to read!

  3. Glad you enjoyed “Checked Out,” Mary, and good for you giving those extra credits to your students. If we had more teachers like you, we might have fewer errors in our news and novels.

  4. Auto correct and small screens have made a bad problem much worse. What used to happen once a week in a given publication now happens several times a day. The sad thing is professional editors not only are missing these, but getting huffy when they are pointed out.

    Don’t get me started on what the papers the children bring home written by educators look like. Some would have trouble passing their own skooles. Sorry, schools.

    • “Curse you, Auto Correct” is one of my favorite blogs, Alan, and seems to create more problems than it solves. As for newspapers, they’ve downsized many of the copyeditors and we see the results daily in our newspapers. I won’t mention the schools if you won’t mention the newspapers.

  5. Wish I had photos of that, James.
    Saw a TV show — a good one — where an educated man didn’t know the difference between “imply” and “infer.” My husband, an English major and a reporter, nearly turned off the set.

  6. “A slight tap of her breaks sent the car swerving into the oncoming lane of traffic.”

    Maybe it’s because I took an Aleve PM last night and havent woke up yet, but I read the above as “a slight tap of her breasts sent the car swerving.”

    Thank god he didn’t GRAB them.

  7. Just yesterday I read someone comment that he was going to “wreck havoc,” which I guess would be a good thing – if havoc were wrecked then peace would reign. (Or peas would rain or rein.) But I’m pretty sure that’s not what he meant. (or possibly mint.)

    • It’s certainly causing havoc for readers. I was surprised to read the jacket flap of a Sue Grafton novel that talked about a “grizzly murder.” I’m sure the careful Ms. Grafton was mad as a bear over that error.

  8. It’s not just misspelling. I heard a TV journalist report yesterday evening that “Missouri Speaker of the House John Diehl also denied he had sexual relations with the intern tonight.” What about all those other nights?

  9. Aaaggghhhh! A friend just wrote that he loves watching squirrels “munching on the suit we leave out for the birds!” It leaves so many questions. Why do they leave suits out for birds. Wouldn’t they prefer suet? And isn’t it a moth’s job to munch suits, not a squirrel’s? Ah, it’s all so confusing.
    But he’s a friend, so I don’t get all pedantic on him.

    • Friends don’t let friends sound stupid, John. You can tell him that most squirrels prefer suet. He should get the point.
      And how do you munch something as soft as suet?

  10. Otto Phil and spill-Chezh are only partly to blame~ and I’m sure they’re getting the bulk of it since they can’t argue back~ poor proofing is one cure ~ but I’m also hearing way too many mis-use/cross-use of “take” and “bring” – (or was I just not learned write in elementary school?)

  11. You were fetched up right, as Huck Finn would say. But those of us who try to use good grammar often feel alone, G. Smith. TKZ is our support group.

  12. Related to the misuse of bring-versus-take, I’ve noticed the same problem with immigrate (to) and emigrate (from).

    My husband and I disagree over what to call an array of different food choices on an appetizer or sampler plate. I call it a medley. He calls it a melody. I think my term is more accepted, but his is cuter.

  13. Your husband’s (wrong) term is much cuter, but I’m not ready for singing carrots and expect my peas to stay peacefully quiet.

  14. I’ve been adding.comments on my kindle to mark all the typos, bad grammar, and detail mistakes. (For example, a character was killed on one page, and only injured a page later. Poor copy editing.) I’m shocked how many I find, but marking them is a reminder for me to be careful.

    Fun post, Elaine.

  15. Glad you enjoyed it, Jordan. I worked as a proofreader and some of the staff corrected the typos and grammar in their library books. They couldn’t stand to leave mistakes uncorrected, even when they were off-duty.

  16. I got into an fou-haha the other day with a woman over the use of “fiancée.” She was trying to defend the use of fiancée for BOTH men and women, saying it didn’t matter that using two e’s for the male was wrong in French because in “this country, it has become common and accepted to use just one word for both.”


  17. I agree with Alan–autocorrect, small screens, and poor copyediting have contributed to the problem. I probably see two or three such errors in each book I read nowadays. Oh, well. Nobody’s purrfekt.

  18. I sometimes put work up on YouWriteOn for critiquing, and the critiques truly are helpful, but just the other day, I got marked down significantly because the critiquer thought I made too many spelling errors:

    pedophile for paedophile (he sarcastically asked if that was a pedestrian)
    shriveling for shrivelling
    color for colour

    Seems the critiquer doesn’t know the differences between American and British spellings. The story is set in San Francisco and the POV character is American, too.

    However, I will sometimes tell people that I found their punctuation problems, spelling and grammar mistakes very distracting, and offer to critique when they’ve corrected them.

    Have you noticed how many memes contain spelling mistakes? Makes me wonder why people even post them to Twitter and Facebook, etc.

    • Oscar Wilde said Americans and Brits were two nations divided by a common language, and your adventures American and British spellings proves that. I agree with you about the spelling and punctuation problems and will put down a book, no matter how good the story, if there are too many mistakes.

  19. This topic contains all the sore spots for me, too. When my daughter was in highschool I made a list of homonyms, homophones and homographs for her, since she was a newly adopted immigrant from Ukraine, English was her third language. The list nearly made her go screaming from the room.

    Words that have recently snuck through my self- editing? Peeked and peaked…embarrassing to be caught looking instead of reaching for the heights.
    Typing on a screen keyboard often changes my intention and requires diligent proof-reading.

    A word that always grinds my back molars however is “irregardless”.

    • Just ate at a very good North Carolina restaurant called “Irregardless.” Your poor daughter. I don’t know how anyone learns this language, a MixMaster of Latin, French, Norman, German and more.

  20. I have a review blog and review debut indie authors. I will allow for a couple of typos or misspellings, but what really irritates me is a writer not knowing grammar. One of the first books that I reviewed had quite a few 5 star reviews on Amazon, and I was amazed. This author lost me when she wrote this sentence: “That bookpack must way a ton!”

    On another note: I was in a discussion in a Facebook writer’s group and was told that I couldn’t be an author and a critic too. They said that they would only give 4 and 5 star reviews. They thought it was better to pat the author on the back than give a fair review on their book. I disagree, but I was made to feel like an ogre for being honest! How is that supporting an author if you are not honest?

  21. With regard to #5, “He was stuck in a 1950s time warp of gentile behavior,” perhaps the author meant genteel behavior, rather than gentle.

  22. Australia’s first female prime minister was, sadly, a classic when it came to miss-pronounciation Her favourites were hyperbole (hyperbowl) negotiate (negosee-ate) and Taliban (Taliband). Regardless of their political leanings, she became fair game for comedy shows specialising in parody as can be seen from this clip

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