I always get my daily ration of information from online news outlets (easily a dozen of them), as I haven’t bought a newspaper in years. The advantage is being able to go through your sources in a matter of seconds—and saving the best stories as PDF files—but there is a downside to real-time reporting: the ubiquitous typos, and, regrettably, the epidemic mangling of English grammar.

I don’t mean just the traditional “dangling” or misplaced modifiers. Examples?

  • Electoral fraud is inevitable when confronted with no ID requirements.
    • Electoral fraud can’t be the subject of the modifying phrase (the one beginning with when).
      A better solution is: “Electoral fraud is inevitable when poll workers are confronted with no ID requirements.”
  • Gazing out my window, the sun rose like a fiery ball.
    • Clearly, the sun is not the subject of the modifying phrase. A better solution is: “As I gazed out my window, the sun rose like a fiery ball.”
  • The President told the press he was considering lifting the embargo yesterday.
    • To avoid confusion, reorganize as follows: “Yesterday the President told the press he was considering lifting the embargo.”

OK, having cleared that up, we can turn to other annoying errors that editors miss, probably because they’re no longer employed due to financial constraints. Many junior reporters on news outlets and blogs have either no time to check for errors or no idea that they made them.

Here are the top 8.

  • Peddle vs. Pedal
    • They’re pronounced the same way, but if you’re describing someone who’s trying to sell something, you must use ‘peddle’. If you’re talking bicycles, then it’s ‘pedal.’
  • Rein in vs. Reign in
    • They’re pronounced the same way, but the first one means ‘to limit, to contain’. The second one has to do with a sovereign’s rule and is simply wrong if used in a sentence like: “The party leader was forced to rein in a few overenthusiastic supporters.”
  • Defuse vs. Diffuse
    • You can defuse an explosive device (by removing the fuse) and, by extension, you can defuse a tense situation. What you cannot do here is use the verb ‘diffuse’, which is very similar in pronunciation but means ‘to spread, to disseminate’. It’s not a question of style—it’s just plain wrong.
  • Affect vs. Effect
    • Similar pronunciation, different meanings. Two examples: To affect the outcome of an election vs To effect change in an organization. 
      Tricky choice but you have no wiggle room. One can’t be used in place of the other.
  • Toe vs. Tow (the Line)
    • “To toe the line” means to abide by the rules. It’s an idiom that comes from athletics, where runners wait for the start gun with their toes on the line. If you want to tow the line, instead, you have to be a ship which is pulling (towing) a rope (line) through the water. Not a very likely metaphor for those who stick to standards. Tow and Toe are pronounced the same way, hence the confusion.
  • Shoo-in vs. Shoe-in
    • Another case of identical pronunciation can be found here, but only one expression is correct.
      A shoo-in is a contestant whose victory is certain. A shoe-in is just wrong
  • Role vs. Roll
    • Again, the pronunciation is the same but the meaning changes. “My role as a father” vs. Roll is a list of members of a school.”
  • Moot vs. Mute
    • Here the pronunciation is not quite the same (moot vs. myoot) and the meaning entirely different. “The issue soon became a moot point”.. Moot means irrelevant, Mute means silent—not quite the same thing.

Just be careful, it’s a jungle out there.