WEASELS and PHEASANTS: Avoiding Word Blunders

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.

17 thoughts on “WEASELS and PHEASANTS: Avoiding Word Blunders

  1. Great post, Laura! I love the examples from your kids. I agree, kids misusing words can be so endearing… like in Ramona the Pest when she calls the nationals anthem the dawnzer song and thinks attack should mean to stick tacks in someone 🙂 Likewise, we should try not to make mistakes! 🙂

  2. Cute pheasant and parasol! I keep a list of funny things my kids say. My son used to call vanilla ice cream, Gorilla Ice cream. I submitted that to a regional parenting magazine’s kids’ quips, and it got published! Thanks for all the suggestions on correct word usage!

  3. I love it when kids misuse words! LOL on “love-a-bye”! It SHOULD be called that. My 3yo thinks the lyrics to “Surfin’ USA” are “Surfin’ to the cafe” (because there’s a cafe we always go to after the pool). But you’re right, adult mistakes are a different story.

  4. Love your posts, Laura! They all hit home w/me in some way. This one, in particular. I used to write all the words down that my kids used to say but haven’t in awhile. The most recent one I discovered is when I was playing Go Fish w/them. I heard my daughter say, “Gold Fish!” She’s 9 now, so she obviously doesn’t do it quite as much as she used to. Oh, and btw, I admit I didn’t always correct them when they were really little. I thought it was way too cute! I do now though because I don’t want them to say the wrong word at school. Taper towels was another one. Wish I could remember more off the top of my head. Too early and not enough coffee 😉

  5. I’m LOVING all the comments today. Our kids sure have said some cute things. I think keeping a list of those cute blunders is a splendid idea and one that might just generate a few picture book ideas. Gorilla ice-cream and gold-fish, indeed!

  6. You reminded me of DD’s wanting to go see the Far-flingos at the zoo. However, ‘flamingos’ is not a word most use everyday.
    Yes & yes to your other points. Most of all- don’t rely on spell check. I should know. (Ouch.)

  7. I used to write those types of cute word blunders down when my girls were little. It’s fun to look back on them. But you’re right, they’re not so cute from us grown ups. My daughter pointed out a word blunder in one of my published articles. I used error instead of err. It was embarrassing and I had wished I let her read the piece before I submitted it. And I was surprised and disappointed that the editor hadn’t caught it.

  8. Your post reminds me of one of my favorite English teachers. This sign is on his wall – Their are mini faux paws spell cheque does knot correction.

  9. “Irregardless” *shudders* I dislike that word a lot. This is a great post! I love the examples from your kids. I’ve been babysitting the same two kids for about 6 years now, so I’ve definitely heard my own versions of words. I love it when kids do it! So cute. Not as gracious and forgiving for adults though. 😉

  10. Pee soup, no way! Thanks for the online resource. Do you happen to have a favorite grammar site? I’m always on the lookout for a comprehensive, easy-to-use online tool for grammar and punctuation.

    • I love my Strunk and White, which also includes grammar and punctuation chapters. I don’t currently use an online tool for grammar and punctuation, but would love to discover one.

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