Tuesday Tittle – Switching Letters, Sounds, and Words

A little different from my other grammar posts, today will have a closer look at typos (any writer’s bane), and specifically, ones that involve switching. Usually, they’re not so bad. As I like to say on Twitter, a typo (or any of the ones I’ll talk about below) is a sign that you’re human. Sometimes though, the meaning can be lost or changed entirely, and sometimes with hilarious consequences (when you’re not the one who typed/said it).

Transposition Error

The typo in the picture above is a simple switch, a transposition error. The “o” and “e” of “does” changed places and formed “dose.” This is a great example of how spellcheck might not be able to save you in writing. The computer sees an English word, and your attention is not drawn to it with a squiggly red line. You’ve probably typed quickly and produced “teh” before. These can sometimes be hard to spot, so at the end of the today’s post there are a few different ways you can try catching them all (in addition to have a second or third pair of eyes looking out for them as well).


Amusingly enough, if you do this in speech then it’s called a Spoonerism, where the error happens with consonants or vowels between two words in a phrase switching places. George Carlin had a great Spoonerism saying “Don’t pet the sweaty stuff and don’t sweat the petty stuff.” Which tends to be more helpful than Shel Silverstein’s “billy sook Runny Babbit.” although the kid’s book is funnier.

Malapropisms & Malaphors

Moving along switched up communication problems, there are also malapropisms, the deliberate or accidental act of using an incorrect word in the regular world’s place due to pronunciation, and malaphors, the mixing of two idioms.

“It will take time to restore chaos and order.” (George W. Bush) is an example of a malapropism, and I admit to having a favorite malaphor, “I’ll burn that bridge when I get to it.” (Combining the idioms “We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it” [we’ll deal with that problem when it happens] and “Don’t burn your bridges.” [don’t do something that makes it impossible to return].

For Writers

So if you’re writing a politician and you want to get them in hot water or have the media show them as incompetent, a malapropism would be perfect to write. Characters can create their own malaphors or use Sponerisms – just make sure to keep an eye out for the worst switches possible, when the letters get out of order and form a new word.

What I’ve seen help other writers and myself from the little typos:

  • take a ruler and read by following your finger
  • load into a text to voice to listen to your words
  • highlight everything and take the highlight away after you’ve checked

Click here if you want to see a list of amusing malaphors, or check out this site where it suggests which two idioms to put together for you – best of writing!

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