Yesterday, I had forgotten how to spell ’embarrassing’ and was too lazy to look it up on dictionary.com. Instead, I went to Google and typed in the two possible spellings I was considering: ’embarrassing’ and the more phonetically correct ’embarassing’.
Never mind that my Italian suggested the single ‘r’ where I should have known better; never mind that dictionary.com and any other dictionary are the right source for this type of information; never mind that what I got was just a corruption of a search; never mind that Google itself suggested the correct spelling.
I came up with an idea!
’embarassing’ came up with 133,000 hits, ’embarrassing’ with 1,050,000.
The next search was ‘frequently misspelled words’… … and there was a host of entries. Unfortunately, they focused on the frequently misspelled words in an honest effort to improve people’s spelling skills. But what I wanted was the list of the most frequent misspellings!
One of my pet peeves is a misspelling so frequent among engineers that it sometimes scares me: many of my kin use ‘seperate’ instead of ‘separate’. To me, that is horrifying because I can read the roots and the ‘se-‘ of ‘severed’ and the ‘par-‘ of ‘part’ and I don’t really know what there is to misspell.
Googlecounts! 759,000 to 15,600,000. Separate still wins by a monstruous margin, even larger than the margin between embarassing and embarrassing.
And what, Marco asks, if we used Googlecounts over time to see how the language evolves? You take a set of monthly readings for a set of competing words, and see how the comparison shapes up. Of course it’s going to be only a rough reading, and it loses scientific basis as soon as it gets widespread. But wouldn’t that be interesting?
‘Alot’ comes up 2,210,000 times. Scary, isn’t it? But there you are, a real-time way of checking the health and direction of your language.