Spelling mistakes of intelligent people

spA common task for many of us is to review and edit draft documents, written by ourselves or others. Over several decades of practice, IP Draughts has noticed that certain spelling mistakes occur surprisingly often among intelligent people.

Here are some of his favourites (correct spelling in bold).

Principal – often confused with principle

Minuscule – perhaps because the u is spoken as an i.

Supersede – do people think it is somehow related to cede?

Inure – the word is so obscure (but often found in contracts) that spell checkers don’t recognise it.

Therefor – another obscure word in contracts, which  is misspelled as therefore

Effect – this verb often appears as its cousin affect.

IP Draughts is not focussing here on differences between UK and US spelling.

One that took him by surprise this week is that some people make a distinction between when it is appropriate to write judgment or judgement.

Do you have any favourite misspellings?


Filed under Contract drafting

13 responses to “Spelling mistakes of intelligent people

  1. A patent application that I assisted with in its later stages related to a device for controlling female urinary incontinence. It consisted of a small electrode with an elongate, soft rounded form that could be inserted and, once activated, would cause the relevant muscles to contract thereby achieving the desired effect.

    The description intended to note that the tip was rounded in order “to facilitate atraumatic insertion”. Or I assume the original author intended to, at any rate. An errant space had crept in, likely courtesy of a spellchecker, and the description proudly stated that the shape facilitated a traumatic insertion…

  2. petergroves

    Sorry, Mark, but you gave me a leg up onto my hobbyhorse … The Oxford Style Manual (disappointingly only about literary style – I was hoping for some other tips) says: “Judgment spelt with only one e is correct in the legal sense of a judge’s or court’s formal ruling, as distinct from a moral or practical deduction (which would take a second e). A judge’s judgment is always spelt thus, as judges cannot (in their official capacity) express a personal judgement separate from their role. [I will refrain from bringing up, for example, the first instance judgment in Baigent v Leigh.] (This stems from the fact that a judge – in the High Court, at any rate – is the embodiment of the monarch: judges in full robes do not stand for the Loyal Toast.)” That little piece of parenthetical trivia might soon appear in a general knowledge question in the Groves family weekly Zoom lockdown quiz!
    Now you know *much* more than you wanted.

  3. Favourite misspellings: ‘plead’ for ‘pled’, apparently by analogy to ‘read’, pronounced ‘reed’, past tense ‘read’, pronounced ‘red’.
    With odd frequency I see ‘ancestor’ misspelt ‘descendant’.
    I solicit IP Draughts’ observation on whether ‘dicta’ has gone the way of ‘data’ and become a singular mass noun, and if so, whether it makes him quietly weep.

  4. Angela Kukula

    I was once asked to execute a contract by singing – they have obvioulsy never heard me sing!

  5. My favorite is “trademark”. I practice in South Africa where the statute has it as two words ( The Trade Marks Act – which is how it is pronounced) as is also the case in the UK and most other countries with English law in their history, but our transatlantic cousins made it one word at some stage and the spell-check Nazis in the media are making us all bend the knee. My law professor, the late great Prof. R. H. Christie, QC., made the “judgement” distinction to which you refer (I think); If it comes from a judge, it ought to have the “e”, otherwise not. The courts here term their efforts “judgments”.

    • Yes, and I think in Canada until recently it was trade-mark. As for judgment v judgement, I have yet to button down what distinction people are making, but yours sounds likely.

      • Thanks for replying. I was not aware that Canada had abandoned its unique half-way place on the spelling of trade mark. Ever tried to pronounce it as one word? Strange how things develop. I think from reading your posts that you would have enjoyed Dick Christie, an absolute master of language and wit and author of what was the leading textbook on contract law in this neck of the woods. He was an early advocate of plain language in contracts.

      • petergroves

        On judg[e]ment, where my reading taught me that the central “e” is not used in what judges hand down, the OED says “The word is found in spellings with -dgm- from the early 16th cent., and by the late 17th cent. judgment had become the prevailing spelling, although judgement was still commonly found. Kersey (1702) is an unusually early example of a dictionary in which the headword form was given as judgement . During the 19th cent. the form judgement gained in frequency in British contexts, and is now the usual spelling in general British use, but judgment has remained the standard spelling in British legal contexts when used to refer to a judicial decision (see sense 8), as well as in U.S. usage.” Which I find comforting.

      • Thanks, Peter. Now I know!

    • Completely with you on that point, Ron. An equally tiresome habit of our transatlantic cousins is to object to UK spellings in patent applications – on the basis that it is an “incorrect use of English”.

      • Thanks for the agreement on the transatlantic cousins. Fascinating about “judgment”, so I had it the wrong way around! I will mend my ways fifthwith – now I am wondering if its a failure of memory or a failure of instruction! The joy we can extract from these little details.

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