LawProse Lesson # 93: The toughest spelling test you’ll encounter.

LawProse Lesson # 93: The toughest spelling test you’ll encounter.

What are the most commonly misspelled legal terms? Spelling raises troublesome issues. It’s no more important, really, than dribbling is to basketball, short putts to golf, or personal hygiene to social relations. If you think they’re/there/their is a distinction you needn’t concern yourself with — perhaps because it’s below your pay grade — you’re (not your) probably impervious to how much your (not you’re) carefree attitude has already hampered your (you get the picture) income. Here are five legal terms that lawyers and judges often misspell:
  • Ad hominem (not *ad hominum): an argument directed not to the merits of an opponent’s argument but to the opponent’s personality or character.
  • De minimis (not *de minimus): a shortened form of the Latin maxim de minimis non curat lex (= the law does not concern itself with trifles).
  • In personam (not *in personum): (a claim or action) vested in a person.
  • Judgment (not *judgement): the final decisive act of a court in defining the rights of the parties. Although judgement is prevalent in British nonlegal texts, judgment is the preferred form in American English and British legal texts.
  • Just deserts (not *just desserts): a reward or punishment that is deserved (not a sweet treat — though deserts in this sense is pronounced like desserts).
Of course, it’s not just lawyers that get tripped up by spelling errors. Here are 30 of the most commonly misspelled words in the English language (with their misspellings in parentheses): accommodate (*accomodate or *acommodate) calendar (*calender) category (*catagory) committed (*commited) conscientious (*consciencious) consensus (*concensus) definitely (*definately) embarrass (*embarass) exceed (*excede) fiery (*firey) guarantee (*garantee or *guaranty) harass (*harrass) height (*heighth) independent (*independant) liaison (*liason) maintenance (*maintenence) maneuver (*manuever) millennium (*milennium or *millenium) miniature (*miniture) misspell (*mispell) noticeable (*noticable) occasionally (*occasionaly) occurrence (*occurrance or *occurence) possession (*posession or *possesion) precede (*preceed) privilege (*privelege or *priviledge) recommend (*recomend or *reccommend) relevant (*relevent) restaurateur (*restauranteur) separate (*seperate) Confusion also abounds with the word it. The possessive form of it is its <The school lowered its flag to half-mast>. The contraction for it is is it’s <It’s going to snow today>. The possessive its should never be used as a personal pronoun in place of his, her, or his or her. Here’s a tricky little test. See whether you can spell these words correctly. Just finish them: id_______ (a quirky individual characteristic) in_______ (to vaccinate) pav_______ (a large tent or summer house) super_______ (to make defunct by replacing) If you spell those correctly without any help, you’re in the top 1%. Congratulations. Sources: Garner’s Modern American Usage (3d ed. 2009) (under “spelling”). Garner’s Dictionary of Legal Usage (3d ed. 2011). [Answers: idiosyncrasy, inoculate, pavilion, supersede]
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