As kids, we’ve all learned a few words incorrectly because we never heard them said aloud. What were yours? A couple of mine were “fiery,” which for years I mentally pronounced “feery” instead of “fire-ee.” Then there was pico de gallo, which I happily intoned (in my head) as “peekoh duh gallow.” (Obviously, I was not a bilingual kid.)

Another example of those kinds of mistakes happened when my son was three and, walking down the street, he said in his cheery little voice, “Don’t step in the poop dog!” (Hey, it was cute at the time.) And one day you might ask me why I thought Christmas was on December 24 until I was 13.

So what happens when you make those cute mistakes, and you’re already a grown-up? Uh oh. Suddenly you don’t sound so grown-up to your colleagues, clients, superiors, or subordinates. Which means it’s really not so adorable after all.

But even as adults we make blunders, no matter how educated we are. Just a few years ago I was (gently) corrected for writing “baited breath” instead of “bated breath.” (Hey, I had never read Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, the origin of that phrase, and who uses that word in any other way? It’s not like I had actually seen it anywhere else recently.)

Just the same, as an editor, I’ve seen a lot worse things—errors that make me cringe. Here are a few examples:

  • “sort” when it should be “sought”
  • “awarded” when it should be “rewarded”
  • “ado” when it should be “adieu” (Except for Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing. That one’s correct.)
  • “extra curricula” for “extracurricular”
  • “wha-la!” for “voila!”
  • “loose” (rhymes with noose) for “lose” (rhymes with snooze)
  • And the two I see the most: “your” when it should be “you’re” and “to” when it should be “too” (or vice versa)
  • Oh, that reminds me; it’s absolute NOT “visa versa”

The case for taking the time to learn.

It’s because errors like that are so frequent that I make a case for a couple of things: First, that it’s worthwhile to learn the basics of English grammar, punctuation, and some style. Second, it’s worthwhile to practice writing and be willing to receive feedback in order to learn how to write better.

The case for hiring an editor.

For some of you, though, you just don’t have time to learn. For others, writing will never be in your wheelhouse, and you’re just not interested. For a few, you’d think I was talking about torture. In those cases, it’s worthwhile to pay someone to write for you, or to pay an editor to clean up what you’ve already written.

If you need a writer or editor, I’m here: