Sunday, March 04, 2012

Who Spells the Spellers?

 I posted something on Twitter earlier today that used the word "surreptitiously".  I typed it out the first time with an erroneous third "u" where the "e" is.  The spell check didn't catch it, but it still looked a bit odd.  So I went to one of my most visited sites: dictionary.com (which is actually dictionary.reference.com, and has been for years.  Luckily the simple way works.)  I've used this for years for everything from academic papers and resumes to the aforementioned Twitter and blog posts.

The site helped correct the spelling for surreptitious and it also listed a definition I didn't understand. 
3. obtained by subreption; subreptitious.



Image 1
What is subreption?  Good thing I'm on a dictionary site!  I looked it up and found the following entry (see image 1): it's a mostly specialized definition relating to church law.  

At the top of the page, I saw a tag for a cool word (you can see it in the first image, outlined in blue). The site will often do this, presumably as a treat for people who like words and browse dictionary sites. A word to describe large objects? Sure, why not. So I clicked through.

And then I was stopped by that most malicious and lurking of errors: spelling!

Image 2
Where the dictionary site had intended to send me was Brobdingnagian, a word coined out of the book commonly known as "Gulliver's Travels". Instead, the link writer spelled the word wrong, and I got a demonstration of the site's feature to help almost-correctly spelled words be located (see image 2).  I have a feeling that I'd have been exactly the sort of person who would comb the local dailies for typographical errors, then corner the editor at a party and laughingly tell him all about it.

Nonetheless, I do think it's entertaining to find the dictionary site misspelling a word. I don't think it's a crime or an affront to language; I won't boycott the site and the slipshod editing. Far from it: it simply reminds me that on the other end are fallible people who are working hard to expose people to interesting words.

So I don't consider this "cheek of the kind demonstrated by a "values" politician who has affairs and a gambling problem. But that does give me a literary opportunity to ask what is halfway between a mister and a mattress?

A mistress.

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