My kids misuse words in funny ways. As preschoolers, my son had “night mirrors” and my daughter was certain that our nightly lullaby was a “love-a-bye”. Last summer they amused me with this exchange on our family trip to steaming hot Philadelphia. Passing an art store, my daughter asked, “Mommy can I please have a ‘weasel’?” (She meant “easel”.) Then, feeling hot and tired, she turned to her brother and asked if he could please hold her parasol for her. (We’d just picked that up in Chinatown.) My son, however, snorted, “What do you think I am, your pheasant?” (He meant “peasant’” – as in the days of serfdom.)
When adults misuse language, however, it’s not cute at all. It’s embarrassing and poor form. Here’s a sampling of word errors I’ve heard/read adults make: “concur” instead of “conquer”, “pacifically” instead of “specifically”, “real” instead of “really”, “irregardless” instead of “regardless”, “human bean” instead of “human being”, “pee soup” instead of “pea soup” and “conceited” instead of “conceded”. The list could go on… and on.
As writers for children I think we have an extra obligation to make sure our stories aren’t littered with word blunders. So, here are four suggestions for producing well-polished, error-free pieces.
Don’t rely on spell check. Instead, print out near-final drafts and use a colored pen to circle errors. Reading sentences in reverse also helps word blunders (and other errors) stand out.
Get a word buddy (i.e. critique partner). A fresh set of eyes can catch something you missed. Have a trusted writing colleague or friend check work before posting it on a blog or submitting it for publication.
Refresh your word bank. There are plenty of resources for brushing up on correct word usage. The classic Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White has an extra-long chapter dedicated to commonly misused words and expressions. Online resources exist as well. For starters, check out Victoria Neely’s list at www.squidoo.com/misused-words.
Be gracious if someone corrects you. And don’t be afraid to graciously correct others. That’s how we learn and grow.