May 31, 2012

Mixed-up Words and Why They Matter

What’s the harm in switching a few letters around?

As most of you know by now, I poke fun at my wife. Trust me, she gets in her fair share of jabs. My wife is a brilliant person, talented beyond belief, gifted in many areas. Smart as she is though, she frequently mixes up her words.

It reminds me of one of my favorite movie quotes from The Princess Bride, when Inigo Montoya says, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”


We were only married a few years when I had to get minor surgery. On the way to the hospital my wife said, “You know they’re going to make you pee in a cup.”

“What if I can’t?”

“If you can’t they’ll castrate you.”

Castrate! Fortunately I knew they wouldn’t, but that reasoning wasn’t quick enough to stop the image of a mad scientist wielding a scalpel and doing reprehensible things. That brief flash scared me enough to fill that cup to the brim.


When my daughter brought home her fiancé from Austria—and after my wife kept calling him an Aussie despite us reminding her that there were no kangaroos in Austria—my wife made an appetizer dip. My daughter’s fiancé had never eaten Mexican food, so my wife was explaining to him what was in the dish.

“It has refried beans and bean dip, sour cream, two kinds of shredded cheese, black olives, onions, tomatoes, and guatemala, with a little seasoning added.

Guacamole dip

He took my daughter aside and whispered, “Isn’t Guatemala a country?”


Another time she complained about a prescription drug not working, an antibiotic I believe. I suggested that perhaps she hadn’t given it enough time. She said, “The pharmacy gave me the genetic brand, and they never work.”

The Two Chucks

And back in 1991, right after Chuck Knoblauch was named baseball’s American League Rookie of the Year, he called and said he was coming to the house. My wife panicked because the house wasn’t sparkling. She ran to the bottom of the stairs and called up to our kids.

“Hurry up, Chuck Norris is on his way here. We have to clean.”

My son, being the smart ass he always is, and knowing it was not Chuck Norris coming to the house, responded quickly…

“One second, Mom. I have to get my nunchucks.”


Another time, my daughter stepped on a piece of metal, cutting her foot. My wife said, “You have to get a shot or you’ll get tuberculosis.”


What my wife does is harmless; in fact, it serves as great comic relief and gives us all a laugh, including her. But mixing up words can have more serious consequences. In my work as a headhunter, and as a writer, I see words mixed up all the time. Mistakes on a resume might cost you an interview for a job. Too many mistakes in a book will cost you customers. No one wants to read a book riddled with errors.

And it is usually the simple words that end up being the worst offenders:


  • Lead/led—I see this on resumes a lot. People use “lead” as the past tense, instead of “led.”
  • Then/than—Try remembering that “then” is associated with time, and both words have an “e.” The word “than” is used for comparison.
  • Alright/all right—Some people still think that “alright” is all right, but it isn’t. Alright is simply a misspelling of all right.
  • Alot/a lot—This is another easy one. “Alot” is not a word. It is always “a lot,” two words.
  • Passed/past—The key to this is remembering that “passed” is a verb. “Past” can be an adjective, noun, adverb or preposition. If the word you’re looking for is a verb, use “passed.”

The bottom line.

It’s okay for my wife to mix up her words at the house, but you don’t want to mess up on your resume, or on an email to a client. And you definitely don’t want to mess up on your book. So take time. Edit everything before it goes out. If it is important, have someone else look at it. Make a habit of doing that and you will be thankful you did.

So what will happen if you mix up your words? 

I doubt you’ll get tuberculosis.

Tuberculosis image





And I’m almost positive no one will castrate you.

Image of Scalpel






I don’t think Chuck Norris would hold it against you;

image of Chuck Norris






however, you might run into a genetically-gifted Guatemalan grammar guru who rejects your resume or puts down your book because you misused the words.

So do your best to catch all mistakes, and check that the words you used are the ones you want.







Tell me what you think. Are there specific words that bother you?


Giacomo Giammatteo is the author of Murder Takes Time, and A Bullet For Carlos.

He lives in Texas where he and his wife have an animal sanctuary with 41 loving “friends.”

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