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Public or Pubic? Spellcheck Can’t Tell!

Yesterday I got a friendly telephone call from a stranger: Collette Gillian of Salt Lake City, Utah, USA. Being a copywriter and a lover of the English language, Collette likes to see English written correctly.

Collette phoned to inform us that a page on our website said we have clients in the “private and pubic sectors.” (Later a friend described this as the “private and even more private sectors.”)

I was shocked. How could Collette be right? But she was. Although we do not have clients in the pubic sectors, we have–had!–a typo, a proofreading problem. The word p-u-b-l-i-c was simply missing its letter l.

Through conversations, I have learned that this is a common typo. Friend Martha Bean of Collaborative Focus told me about the time she invited people to attend a “Pubic Meeting” about the “Snohohomish River.” Martha’s was a double blooper, since the river she meant to name is really not so jolly–it’s the Snohomish.

How can we be sure not to repeat embarrassing errors? And how can we catch them if spellcheck doesn’t? Here’s what I have just done to avoid the pubic/public problem.

In Microsoft Word, I went into Tools, Autocorrect Options. On the Autocorrect menu, I inserted the word pubic in the “Replace” column. In the “With” column (as in “Replace With”), I typed the word public. Now any time I type the word pubic it will automatically be changed to public. Whew! I feel more secure already.

Although there are many things that software cannot do and spellcheck cannot catch, Microsoft Word can Autocorrect beautifully.

Please phone or email me if you find other embarrassing errors I have made. I will be delighted to hear from you, and I will thank you here in pubic–I mean public.

Thank you, Collette!

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By Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact.

A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors.

A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media.

Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English.

4 comments on “Public or Pubic? Spellcheck Can’t Tell!”

  • Working in the field of public health, it is always vital that I proof for the correctness.This error does happen and usually is it pretty embarrassing to the writer. Your suggestion for auto-correct is a good one and I am going to set it up right now!

  • My husband is a high school band director, and we once discovered this error on the side of one of our public school buses — as we were unloading for a football game. I’m sure you can imagine the reaction of the students!

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