[Extracts from reports in BBC news, BBC Breakfast, Guardian Unlimited, The Daily Telegraph, Derbyshire Evening Telegraph.]


The latest edition of the Concise Oxford English Dictionary was published by the Oxford University Press on July 8 2004 at £20.

The dictionary's 100 researchers across the world ... studied a database of more than 300 million words taken from newspapers, magazines and websites to provide statistics on words with which people have trouble, ... discovered that ... more and more writers are mixing up like-sounding words and phrases.

"The question is: does it matter if, in a generation's time, people are writing about 'pouring over magazines' or 'towing the line'?".
The commonest word crime in the language is "diffuse" or "defuse" (in some 50% examples on the database). Second commonest is "rein" or "reign" (26%). Third most frequent (21%) is "tow" instead of "toe". Fourth (12%) is "pouring" instead of "poring". Other common confusions include pedal and peddle, draw and drawer, compliment and complement and their, there and they're.

BBC Breakfast had an on-line spelling test, with words in the above list and also:

to, two, too
principle, principal
practise, practice
BBC Breakfast talked to Catherine Soanes from the Concise Oxford English Dictionary, and [SSS President] Professor John Wells from University College London.

John Wells asked why we could not spell rain, reign, rein in the same way. We have no problem with post = job, post = pole, post = mail.

Angus Stevenson, the dictionary's co-editor, said: "They are not so much spelling the words wrongly but using the wrong words."

Mr Stevenson said his team believes that the chief explanation was the use of the computer spell check which does not spot errors of meaning.

But an education expert at the University of Derby has defended those of us who struggle with there, their and they're and says that, as long as you can get the message across, the spelling does not matter.
John Dolan, education lecturer, agreed that the most common problems were with homophones - words that sound alike but have different meanings.

He also said words with double consonants, such as accommodation and recommendation, confused people.

"People spell inconsistently, full stop," he added. ... But what we're trying to do when we write is get a message across and if that works, spelling doesn't matter."

Top 10 misspelt words:
1. Their, there, and they're.
2. Whose and who's.
3. It's and its.
4. Loose and lose.
5. Affect and effect.
6. Stationery and stationary.
7. Draw and drawer.
8. Compliment and complement.
9. Discreet and discrete.
10. Flare and flair.
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