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Dispelling misspellings

There’s a poster I pass at work regularly about identifying phishing emails. It advises that the content of these emails is frequently ‘mispelled’. I’ve spent more time than I ought pondering whether that misspelling was intentional or not, likely a slightly-less-obvious version of telling us that emails might be full of ‘seplling mystakes’.

Then, I doubted myself and wondered if ‘mispell’ was an acceptable alternative to ‘misspell’. I checked the Oxford English Dictionary: it’s not. There’s no historical context in which it is correct—the etymology is plainly ‘mis’ + ‘spell’. The inclusion of a lonely ‘s’ is simply wrong, whether or not it’s intentionally wrong.

The Dictionary does list a single quotation in which the word appears as ‘mispelling’: England’s 1695 Treason Act. Section XI of the Act provides, among other things, that misspellings in legal documents cannot be used as the sole grounds for dismissing a case unless highlighted before any evidence has been presented (in which case, they could be corrected and the trial could proceed). Amusingly, ‘misspelling’ is misspelt:

noe Indictment for any of the aforesaid … shall bee quashed on the Motion of the Prisoner or his Counsel for miswriting mispelling false or improper Latine

This section of the Act was repealed with the passage of the Treason Act 1945, so you needn’t worry about the misspelling of misspelling still being in force. Unlike the poster, we can, at least, assume the 1695 mistake wasn’t a deliberate pun.


The image at the top of this post was generated by DALL·E 3.

This post was filed under: Miscellaneous, .

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