Fun With Words

Editors make corrections to grammar, spelling and words used incorrectly while diligently focusing on producing the highest quality work they can. At the risk of insulting the writer, editors often avoid developing many of these errors into teachable moments for the writer. However, if taken literally, some of these errors can be quite puzzling. The following are just a few common confusing and potentially amusing examples.

I waited with baited breath… If the writer waited anxiously then he may also have waited with bated breath. As written, the phrase begs the question, what was the writer hoping to catch? How exactly did he bait his breath? Let’s hope he wasn’t holding his breath while he waited.

His constant attacks did not phase me. If the writer was not intimidated or upset by the attacks then they may not have fazed her. Otherwise, we presume the attacker was attempting to wear her down in stages, or merge her into the sequence of some unspecified process.

I laughed so hard at the way he fell off the ladder; it was hysterical. These only makes sense if the person falling off the ladder was frantic and panic-stricken, then he may indeed have been hysterical. The writer may be cruel for laughing, unless the way he fell was hilarious.

The bright flash of the lightening strike was very close by. The lightning strike may indeed have lit up the sky around them. Lightening occurred because of the massive discharge of electricity into the air by the lightning bolt.

This new development peeked my interest. If the development only caused him to glance furtively for a moment, then the development was apparently not that significant. On the other hand, if his curiosity was aroused then his interest may have been piqued by the new development.

The lawyer was pouring over the mountain of briefing materials. The writer forgot to tell us what the lawyer was pouring. Could it have been coffee or wine? This seems the wrong approach for the lawyer to take in preparing for court. If the lawyer was intently studying the material, or poring over the documents, he may be better prepared.

His acts were not criminal, but it was the principal of the matter. Either the school headmaster was involved somehow, or the issue was of prime importance. We can infer from the sentence that the writer was offended by the person’s conduct, which apparently was lacking in principle.

The way her brother behaved left her wondering just who’s house this was. Either something is missing from this sentence or it was meant to be a question. The contraction of ‘who is’ or ‘who has’ becomes ‘who’s’, as in who’s seen my brother? Perhaps if it was a question she might have learned whose house it was.

The random application of apostrophes before any letter “s” is one pet peeve of editors. For example, Joan met her twin brother’s for lunch. Either she met with both brothers so this is plural, or she left something out of the sentence, such as where they met. Could it have been at her brother’s house? Joan like’s her brother. Aargh!