CAUTION: Misspelled warnings ahead

WARNING: This lable might contain a misspelt word.

It would seem that extra care and attention should be paid to ensuring product warning labels are correct. They are, after all, a company’s key to defense should someone become injured as a result of using the product. (I know all the legal experts who read this may disagree — I’ll take my lumps.)

Take for example, the label on my patio umbrella.  Just to be sure, I checked Webster, and there is no such word as “postion”.  Yes, it should be “position.” Interestingly, it was my 10-year old who pointed this one out. I’ve had this umbrella for about four years (since my last one blew away due to a wind event!) and never noticed.
Our brains have an uncanny ability to automatically insert missing letters and words into sentences as we read. It’s likely this phenomenon has a complicated sounding name in medical terminology, but I’m sure it’s because we read words as a whole, and not each letter by itself. This is why it’s always good to have a trusted friend or colleague who can proofread your work after you’ve read it several times. You can no longer see any errors, and the proverbial “set of fresh eyes” can make all the difference. I’ve found that reading out loud very slowly also helps. Need any help?


Filed under proofreading, spelling

4 responses to “CAUTION: Misspelled warnings ahead

  1. kathryn mccary

    Agreed–we process the whole word. But I think it is also that we process large groups of words as a unit. And the danger to proofreading your own work (especially hot off the press) is that you KNOW what you meant to say, and you see exactly that. . .whether or not it is what you actually wrote.

    Another trick that I have found helpful is starting at the end and reading backward, word by word. This helps to isolate the individual words so you can actually read them. I find that, even so, I still process groups of words to some degree, but less so.

    But, no matter what you do–there will be an error, and the more important the work, the more likely it will be the most embarrassing error possible, which you will discover in circumstances too horrible to contemplate. Some variation of Murphy’s Law, I think.

  2. kathryn mccary

    Forgive me for going OT, but this seemed like a good place to find an appreciative audience for the following. I can’t actually show you the document it appears in (which contains a picture of some tasty-looking baked goods) because it comes from a vendor proposal I am reviewing for a client. But the sentence is just too excellent to pass by:

    “We will offer a delicious selection of on sight freshly baked pastries.”

    Surely that only works if you have microwave-vision?

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