Mixed Up Words

Mixed Up Words
Terry Odell

Judging from some recent posts, it’s looking like we all need a break from what’s happening around us. I thought I’d follow in the footsteps of Debbie’s mondegreens, Elaine’s eggcorns, and and JSB’s bloopers with a little more fun with words—although I’m sure they weren’t fun for the authors who made the mistakes.

These errors are from the spectrum of publishing—from indie to major publishing house authors. Whether or not some of these were typos on the part of the author and missed in editing, or whether the author didn’t know the correct word doesn’t really matter. However, given editorial passes these days are often far fewer than in the past, it behooves the author to get as much right as possible, and not hope an editor will find and fix errors. Sometimes it’s the little things that get overlooked, such as a NYT best-selling author having “That to” instead of “That, too.” (and there are different house style for the comma, but that’s not the error.)

Below are examples. Spellcheck wouldn’t have flagged any of them. Do you recognize these vocabulary errors? I’m sure you do. Why didn’t the editors?

  1. Rowdy little hoard
  2. His jacket was pealed back
  3. The car pealed away from the curb
  4. He’s cooling his heals in the lockup
  5. A single star shown brighter than any other
  6. The plain of his abdomen
  7. Ran her fingers down his chest toward his naval
  8. The bullet had come to rest against the seventh vertebrae
  9. Emerged like a breach birth
  10. “You saved his life today. He’ll probably give you an accommodation or something.”
  11. “The state trooper gave the children law enforcement’s universal anecdote: orange juice and candy bars.”
  12. He was injured trying to diffuse the bomb.
  13. She poured over the pages of the book.
  14. She peddled her bike down the sidewalk
  15. He waited with baited breath.
  16. He knocked on the door jam before entering the room.

And, one I didn’t learn until a reader (not my editor) pointed it out: discrete vs discreet.

What errors have you found in recent reading? The floor is yours.


Heather's ChaseMy new Mystery Romance, Heather’s Chase, is now available at most e-book channels. and in print from Amazon.

Terry Odell is an award-winning author of Mystery and Romantic Suspense, although she prefers to think of them all as “Mysteries with Relationships.” Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

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34 thoughts on “Mixed Up Words

  1. “However, given [THAT] editorial passes these days are often far fewer than in the past, it behooves the author to get as much right as possible….” Though I’m betting you provided that one intentionally as a test.

    Typos happen.

    • Thanks for catching it, Harvey. It’s been fixed. And that’s why we all need fresh eyes on our work. Maybe it’s time to talk to my eye doctor about that cataract surgery. 😉

  2. I see this ALL of the time: “council” used erroneously in place of “counsel.”

    “He was represented by his legal council.”

    I am even seeing it in legal decisions. Oh, the humanity!

    Great post, Terry.

    • Thanks, Joe. Another mistake I learned once I started writing and wanted to use the word (because we can speak homonyms and no one’s the wiser) is chauffeur vs chauffer.

  3. I’m reading a book and have found 27 errors in the first five chapters. I should stop reading, but it’s fascinating to figure out how anyone could publish something so bad.

    My own pet peeve is “graduated school” instead of “graduated FROM school.” You don’t graduate school, just as you don’t retire job. I guess you could graduate that school to the top of your list of incompetent educational institutions.

  4. This post gave me much needed laughter this morning, Terry. Thank you!
    I can’t recall any recent ones I’ve read; however, I’ve committed more than a few in my own fiction. Baited breath for instance. Another one I’ve caught myself having typed is google rather than goggle. I blame a certain giant internet search company’s mindshare for that one 🙂

    • Thanks, Dale. That was my intention. We need chuckles.
      Ah, yes, the words your fingers type because they’re so commonly used now. I’d definitely add that one to my “check for wrong/overused words” list for my editing pass.

  5. My favorite example of mixed-up words isn’t from a book. It was a movie.

    I watch movies when I’m on the treadmill, but I can’t hear well over the noise of the treadmill and my own huffing and puffing, so I always turn subtitles on. I watched a movie a few years ago that used the words “peek,” “peak,” and “pique” in the dialogue. The subtitles had it wrong in every case! I can’t remember the name of the movie or the exact way that the words were used, but it was something like “he was peeked by her behavior,” “he peaked around the door,” and “she was staring at the mountain pique.”

    After I saw the third one, I had to stop the treadmill because I was laughing so hard. I think the subtitle provider must have done it on purpose just to see if anybody was paying attention.

    • Ah, Kay, you’ve hit on my favorite mixup. I see it all too often, although from what you’re saying, it does sound like it might have been intentional.
      Closed captioning is another place to find wonky words. I don’t think people are involved in generating that text.

  6. Great post, Terry, to take our minds off of *ahem*, no need to say.

    I’m presently editing my doctoral candidate friend’s dissertation, chapter by chapter. (I do the first edit, looking for typos, grammar problems, misplaced commas, etc., then she submits to her advisor). Not a content edit at all. It’s a new experience for me, and actually quite fun.

    I’ve seen this before, and I’ve also been the perp. My editor had to break me of it. 🙂

    I’m talking about the use of that instead of who when referring to a person or people. My friend repeated this mistake over and over in her MS, until I pointed it out to her in an email. She said she didn’t even think of it. Now, she’s catching some of them…but some still slip by her.

    Editors rule!

    • One of my crit partners is a ‘that’ user. And we won’t get into lie/lay and all its confusions.
      Your story reminded me of a similar “editing” experience. My daughters husband (at the time) was getting his PhD in nuclear physics and I volunteered to look at his draft thesis. I could correct grammar (although we did have a little back-and-forth about the “dishes needs washed” type construction. I think that’s a midwest thing.) I knew nothing about particle accelerators, but I do know grammar.

    • I have to correct myself on this one all the time! It is so easy to do. Another one I mess up is who vs. whom! Oh, and commas. I use too many. I must pause more than most people, lol.

      • A favorite “excuse” in my crit group is “Dialogue Defense.” If my characters don’t use proper grammar when they speak, they can say who or whom as the whim strikes them.

  7. I still struggle with farther vs. further. Example: “He couldn’t carry the suitcase any farther/further.” They both work for me. “How much further/farther are you going to take your argument?”

    I’ve said before that I don’t really understand commas.

    Which vs. that is troublesome for me.

    When a corporation–itself a legal fiction–is treated as an individual, why is it a “that” instead of a “who”?

    • I go with “farther” is physical distance and use “further” for the others, but I have to stop and think. (And that’s not a hiccup when I’m reading.)
      Which/That. Totally out of my wheelhouse. I have vague recollections of “learning” this is school, but those brain cells have left the building. https://www.grammarly.com/blog/which-vs-that/
      And for “who”, I go with a real, physical, actual person.
      I count on my editor to fix things, but I’ll still check again if it looks strange. They miss stuff, too.

    • Thanks, Patricia. As long as I don’t get into wonky tenses, I’m okay with lie/lay, which I attribute to my volunteering for the Adult Literacy League in Orlando back in the day, where one of my students was not a native English speaker, so I had a lot of grammar brushing up to do. Also, my kids had this fantastic little book from their elementary school days in the “gifted” program that I have kept. I don’t think it’s in print anymore, but I’ll never get rid of it. It explains things at an elementary-school level, which works fine for me.

  8. Well, maybe not a practical sense. Or a sense I have otherwise not yet . . . well . . . sensed. But I see great use for these mixed up words. We can call them errors, but I see another possibility.

    They provide great opportunity, at least for me, to come up with some fun from the errors.

    “He threw his four-on-the-floor into first, popped the clutch, and pealed out. The clanging and crashing and falling-apart of his disintegrating ’74 Pontiac GTO just after The Hawkins Moving Van Company of Worcester, Massachusetts 18-wheeler hit him on the left rear bumper, sounded like or as if he were in the middle of a million bells.”

    “He was cooling his heals in the Morgue County lockup. They weren’t cooling very fast. The Morgue County deputies had beaten him to pieces. His heals would take a long time to get there.”

    “Officer Collins sat down by the kids who still sniffed and heaved, and headed each one the universal cop’s anecdote–orange juice and candy bars. The moment gave them had that story they’d remember the rest of their lives, that came from their worst night ever.”

    “She poured over the pages of the book. Don’t EVER do that with Aunt Jermima’s on the $29.95 book that has just arrived from Amazon.”

    “Limping, she peddled her bike down the street–everyone stared at her scraped knees and bruised face, but no one would buy the &$#@%* thing.”

    “He paused, his lips and eyes close to her, waited with baited breath. He’d chewed the peppermint candies she’d given him, for just this moment.”

    “Eagen snickered at the pompous bastard sergeant’s report. It read “He was killed trying to diffuse the bomb.” He closed angry eyes at the sergeant’s stupidity. The bomb had diffused all right. It had scattered Ruffy, the Ruffman, the best bomb-sniffing dog in America, all over the intersection of 14th and Yale.”

    Well, as they might say, they ain’t Jim’s. But I’ll have to take responsibility for them.

  9. Great post, Terry. There’s so much weirdness to this English language (that) I’m surprised anyone gets it write (sp intentional). Speaking of spelling, I live in a Canadian dimension half-way between the Brits and the Americans. Why can’t we all agree on a common spelling on common words like centre/center, colour/color, through/thru, etc? And don’t get me going on tire/tyre or petrol/gas.

    • Hahahaha!

      Great post, Terry! Since I’m in video-editing hell at the moment, I can barely spell my name, never mind think of blunders. *someone shoot me, please*

      • Video editing? There’s a skill I’m not ready for. But don’t look at me to shoot you. I don’t own a gun, and I don’t know where the Hubster keeps his.

    • One of my critique partners is from London; my daughter lives in Northern Ireland, so I’ve become accustomed to the spelling variations. (I also have a HUGE stockpile of “U”s should anyone need them.)

    • Thank Noah Webster for the spelling changes, Garry. He deliberately changed spellings as a sign of American nationalism. I just crave consistency. Why aren’t Department of Defense facilities surrounded by fenses?

      Most of the random British U’s don’t make a lot of sense to me, unless “colour” used to have a vastly different pronunciation.

      Random question: In Canada, do cars have trunks or boots? Hoods or bonnets?

  10. Unless they have the accidental resonance of a Tom Swifty, I often don’t notice such blunders and, unless they’re in my own work, I soon forget them. Which is a mercy, but it means I’m not a reliable editor.

    What I notice are chances to do it on purpose, especially for throwaway lines, like using “abominable pain” in the sense of “intense abdominal pain” if one of my teen-aged smart-alec characters has gone more than five seconds without a wisecrack.

    • Oh, yes. Doing them intentionally as part of a character’s character is wonderful. My dad used to play with words a lot.

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