Category Archives: spelling

It’s Not a Foolish Question: A Day Belonging to Fools or a Day for Fools?

Yesterday was April Fool’s Day, and I felt like the biggest fool of them all. Well, I felt more unlucky than foolish: I lost Internet access, and then my laptop died.  It was a cosmic April Fool’s Day prank.

But yesterday reminded me of the variations (and ensuing debates!) I often see in the spelling of such days as April Fool’s. The usual suspects are April Fools’ Day (more than one fool) and April Fools Day (Fools as an adjective).

According to CP Style, the following spellings are correct:

April Fool’s Day

Mother’s Day

Father’s Day

The use of the singular possessive is convention more than anything else — using the plural possessive (Mothers’ Day) would be equally correct.

If you despise the singular possessive being used in this way, you’re not alone. Many people feel that these are days to celebrate all fools and moms and dads — plural, not singular.

According to Wikipedia, Anna Jarvis is the person to blame — at least for Mother’s Day. As the day’s founder, she trademarked “Mother’s Day” because she felt the day should be commemorated by every family celebrating its own unique mother. The use of the singular possessive for Father’s Day and April Fool’s Day is probably for the sake of consistency.

What about forgoing the apostrophe altogether: April Fools Day, Mothers Day, Fathers Day. Without the apostrophe, Fools and Mothers and Fathers become adjectives, modifying day. This would mean that the days don’t belong to the fools, mothers, and fathers, but rather that the days are for these groups. See the subtle difference? CMOS admits this difference “is sometimes fuzzy” and omits the apostrophe only in proper names without an apostrophe (usually corporate names like Publishers Weekly) or where it is clear that the meaning is not possessive.

So when in doubt, keep the apostrophe: girls’ washroom. And for you singular possessive naysayers, try to enjoy Mother’s Day anyway.


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Filed under apostrophe s, punctuation, spelling, style guides

For Men Only: Online Dating? Hire an Editor

Freelancers are always looking for new markets to conquer, and today I discovered a new one: online dating profiles.

If you’re familiar with online dating, then you’ve come to expect a little embellishment here and a little downplaying there. That drool-worthy photo of Mr. Right? You know it was probably taken 5 years and 20 pounds ago in spectacular lighting. You’ve stretched the truth yourself, and you’re not going to knock someone else for playing to their strengths.

But there’s one thing women can’t forgive in an online dating profile: poor spelling. That’s right, guys: Forget about your visible nose hair (actually, please don’t) and the weak chin you inherited from your mother’s side of the family. If you “love chidren and puppys, to” or “beleive in remembering important dates like anniverseries,” you may be missing out on connecting with that special someone.

But what’s good for the goose isn’t so good for the gander: According to the article in the above link, men don’t discriminate against women for the same offence. Women can forget the spell-checker altogether, and men don’t mind. No real surprise there, hence the time and money spent instead on hair, makeup, wardrobe, and glam shots.

Sigh. Showing you know “i before e except after c” would be a whole lot quicker, easier, and cheaper, eh, ladies?

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Filed under branding, content creation, editing and writing, freelancing, spelling, writing


Compound words often have me reaching for the dictionary to confirm I’ve spelled them correctly. The Chicago Manual of Style confirms that compound spellings are indeed the most common spelling questions for writers and editors. Is the compound in question two words, hyphenated, or closed up as a single word? Non member, non-member, or nonmember? Complicating matters is that the answer can be different depending on whether you’re using Canadian or American spelling. (Chicago specifies nonmember, but the Canadian Oxford Dictionary lists non-member.)

What about those commonly used compounds made with e for electronic? Canadian Press specifies the following spellings:

  • ebook (COD lists e-book)
  • email
  • e-commerce
  • e-reader
  • e-waste
  • e-zine

From this list, it’s obvious that the most common words — ebook and email — have, through common usage, become acceptable as closed compounds. With time, the other words will probably become closed as well.

Chicago, a more literary style guide, recommends that hyphens be used with e compounds.

As always, choosing a style and using it consistently is the important thing.

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Copy Editing Commandment #4: Thou Shalt Be Consistent

Maintaining consistency throughout a text is a basic editing skill. The list of items to keep consistent is long and varied:

  • capitalized words (Moon or moon, for example)
  • numbers (when to use figures, when to use words, how to treat dates, times, etc.)
  • abbreviations (when to use them, how to punctuate them, what articles to use with them)
  • distinctive type (italics, roman, quotation marks, etc.)
  • format (headings, lists, captions, tables, bibliographies, etc.)
  • punctuation (open or closed style, use of serial comma)
  • spelling (British vs. American vs. Canadian)
  • hyphen use for compound nouns (policy making or policy-making)
  • internal facts (what’s written on page 202 shouldn’t contradict what’s written on page 2)

Many writers don’t know how to treat different elements of content — or they’re too busy creating great content to care. The copy editor polishes text so that it’s ready for its close-up (i.e., publication!). The result can be transformative. It’s like the difference between you at home in your jammies and you ready for a hot date.

Hair, makeup, nails, and wardrobe for text: it’s what copy editors do.

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Filed under capitalization, comma use, editing and writing, punctuation, spelling

Copy Editor vs. Copyeditor

Like every good Canadian editor, I keep the Canadian Oxford Dictionary at hand to confirm spellings and definitions, and the COD spells my profession as copy editor. Ironically, everywhere I look, this term is spelled inconsistently — sometimes as one word and sometimes as two. The Chicago Manual of Style uses copyeditor, and thus so do many American publications. Here’s a good article from the Baltimore Sun that points out that it doesn’t matter how copy editor is spelled because as a profession it’s on its way out — touché!

In the comments section for the article, a reader posts that he calls himself a “content editor,” thus avoiding the controversy altogether and giving the profession a needed update in the process. I’ve described myself similarly on LinkedIn — as someone who transforms content.

I kinda like the fact that the term copy editor has variant spellings. Accepting variations is apt for a profession that should keep abreast of the culture and be flexible with language and style. Instead of being confused about the spelling of copy editor, let the term remind us of the care and adaptability we exemplify as we work with text.

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Filed under future of publishing, spelling

(Y)eGod(s)! (editorial Gaffe of the day)

Nothing strikes terror through the heart of an editor like the sudden bolt out of the blue when you realize, belatedly ‘natch, that you’ve made a mistake. This happened to me a few minutes ago.

I’ve been sending out my cover letter and resumé via email. In the email message, I write, “My cover letter and resume are attached.” And that’s where my slothful ways are laid bare: with resume. Back in the day, when I first started using word processing software, I never realized that characters with accents were readily available for use. I used to simply spell the word sans accent — what’s the big deal, right? Well, it looks lazy, and, without the accent, the word is incorrectly spelled.

FYI, to make the e in resumé, use CTRL + ‘ and then e. I won’t be omitting accents again.

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Filed under job-hunting, spelling, words with accents

Like Shootin’ Fish in a Barrel

I’ve been searching for errors on storefront signs around the city. Today there was no shortage of offenders. The most common errors were as you might expect:

  • An apostrophe s where none is needed (or vice versa):
They should have stopped at "Art."

They should have stopped at Art.

Are the materials for artists (no apostrophe), or do the materials belong to artists (apostrophe)? No apostrophe is needed here. Better: Rename the store Art Materials. Best: Artists R Us.

  • A plural form where none is needed (or a singular where a plural is needed):
Fruits, anyone?

They’re selling the fruits of their labour, perhaps?

Where's the s?

With a logo this unforgettable, who needs the s?

  • An adjective used as a noun (or vice versa):
An improvement: Improve Your English

Improve Your English, will ya.

The above sign is around the corner from my house and has bothered me for years. My vote would be to go with “Improve Your English.” English-speaking (with a hyphen) is an adjective, not a noun. Alternatives could include “Improve Your Spoken English” or “Improve Your Conversational English.” Drop one of the frees and omit the ESL, and I can walk past without the snicker.

  • The use of American spellings:
In Canada, it's "centre."

In Canada, it’s “centre.”

In Canada, we "flavour" our food.

We Canucks “flavour” our food.

  • Inconsistent capitalization (and spacing and order, in this instance):
"Manufacturer & Wholesaler of Sportswear, souvenirs,  smoking & Fashion Accessories

“Manufacturer & Wholesaler _of Sportswear, souvenirs, _smoking & Fashion Accessories”

Speaking of inconsistency, I’m bestowing an award on today’s most inconsistently spelled word. Congratulations, jewellery

  • Creative (read: incorrect) spellings:
Their coconut buns are the driest in the city -- guaranteed!

Their coconut buns are the driest in the city — guaranteed!

Get Jean's drape before anyone else snags it!

Get Jean’s drape before anyone else snags it!

Of all the ways jewels could be misspelled, I never would have guessed this.

Of all the signs in all the world, jewells had to walk onto mine.

And yes, this is a menu item, not the last name of the owner.

And yes, this is a menu item, not the last name of the owner.

On offer: purse, scarfs and wallet

On offer: purse, scarfs, and wallet

Git yur backpack, belt, and souvener here.

Git yur backpack, belt, and souvener here.

Takeout was consistently spelled take-out. This was unusual in its incorrectness.

Takeout was consistently spelled take-out. This sign was unusual in its incorrectness: take out as two words.

There were lots of signs that used E- in the text: “E-style haircut.” Really? Is this some kind of fashion I’m unaware of, because variations on this were everywhere (and e-tea, anyone?).

Lots of signs were just plain confusing:

VCD? Am I late to the tech revolution again?!

VCD? Am I late to the tech revolution again?!

The most disappointing mistake was from one of the big banks:

Transfer in?

Transfer in?

Best business name of the day goes to Hair Do. Worst business name is a tie between On Care (not call) Pharmacy and this travesty:

Is that French?

Is that French?

Here’s the absolute worst sign of the day:

This one needs a team of editors.

This one needs a team of editors.

To end on a bright note, here’s a sign that could have gone wrong in so many ways but didn’t:


Nice — no apostrophes!


Filed under apostrophe s, capitalization, grammar, signage, spelling