Do You Know What You Don’t Know?

While making a comment on Marcia Yudkin's excellent Marketing for More forum, I realized I was not sure of the spelling of a word. I was writing a comment something like this:

When a website doesn't contain an About Us page, I bail. (Or do I bale?)

Do you know which word is correct?

All I knew was that I did not know for sure. So I looked up both bale and bail.

It turns out that I wanted bail: "to abandon a project" or "to extricate from a difficult situation."

If you are feeling smug because you knew the correct word and I did not, I caution you about hubris. In the business writing classes I teach, MBAs and PhDs catch themselves making mistakes with principal/principle, peak/peek/pique, flush/flesh, complement/compliment, home/hone and many other homonyms and near homonyms.

It's always a good idea to use a dictionary if you are not sure, and it's an even better idea to have a friend who loves words help you by proofreading your important messages.

If you would like to test yourself, the current issue of my free e-newsletter Better Writing at Work, includes a 375-word test passage filled with errors for you to find, most of them involving punctuation.

If you are near Seattle and would like to review the rules of punctuation, grammar, and usage, take my Keys to Error-Free Writing workshop on November 3 in Everett, Washington. (We have just scheduled the class, and it is not yet posted on our website.)

Or get my "60 Quick Word Fixes," a guide to the most common word usage errors. It provides you with easy memory devices and aids to choose the correct word.

But no matter how much you study, please remember this: To air is human.

Just kidding!

Syntax Training


  1. Wordweb is a terrific desktop pop up app for Windows that is both dictionary and thesaurus. I hotkey it all the time.

  2. This is uncanny – I just saw a Facebook post from a friend visiting the Midwest where, she said, they were “bailing” hay. I was pretty sure that was wrong, but I hadn’t looked it up until I wrote this comment!

    Another good lesson, Lynn!

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