Book of the Month
Words most often Misspelled and Mispronounced

Publisher: Pocket Books
Authors: Ruth Gleeson Gallagher and James Colvin

ISBN 978-0671648749

Intermediate +

What use is a dictionary that is not complete and which does not give any definitions? This book is basically a list of words - but the words on this list have one thing in common. You have probably misspelled or mispronounced several of them in the recent past. Unlike some languages where it is possible to work out the spelling from the pronunciation and vice versa, in English the way words are written and spelled can be wildly different. As the famous 'Pronunciation Poem' asks, 'Which rhymes with 'enough' - though, through, plough, cough, or tough?' If you don't know the answer (it's tough) then this book will help. It is basically a list of the most mispronounced and misspelled words in the English language, and because it is the English language we are discussing here, the list is a very long one.

The book gives the correct spelling of each word and its derivatives. It also groups words and derivatives together, since as the foreword explains, 'dry' and 'drier' would otherwise be alphabetically some distance apart. However, the actual listing also gives 'dry clean' and 'dried' but not 'dryer', which is a homophone of the same-sounding comparative 'drier' but is a noun meaning a machine which dries clothes. Some missing words are inevitable though, as the publishers have sensibly kept the book to a size which fits easily into a jacket pocket. Nevertheless, there are over 23,000 words between the covers from 'abacus' to 'zwieback'. ('Zwieback' is a kind of crunchy biscuit, but you knew that, yes?) The words on each page are in two columns of about fifty words to a column with the pronunciation beside them. For those not familiar with the phonetic system used, there is a key in the front of the book for reference. There is also a short foreword explaining how to use the book, but the remainder of the 240 pages consists of lists of words. Some words, such as 'wherry' - a light rowing boat - are not going to occur often in everyday conversation, and when they do crop up, you'll probably want a regular dictionary anyway, but with most words, one knows the meaning, but forgets the spelling, and that's where this book is handy.

Who is this book for? Technology has made one use of this book outdated, for these days a good word processor will immediately insert a wriggly red line under any misspelled word. However getting a pronunciation is more difficult, whereas with this book it can be done at a glance. For those who like language, it's fun to glance through and look for unusual words and pronunciations. For those who have to write business letters the old fashioned way with a pen, this book is a handy way of avoiding any embarrassing mistakes. However, it is written for American users, so, for example you have a 'plow' and not a 'plough' (and no, neither word rhymes with 'enough'.)

Verdict: Word processors do part of the job these days
Assessment 5/10
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