Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Pases or Passes? Spellcheck Can’t Catch Everything

An unfortunate headline caught my eye because of a word that certainly seemed misspelled — but did they mean pases or passes?

When a court decides not to hear a case, would you say the court pases or passes on it?

The question might seem silly because the answer might seem obvious. But then you see a reputable organization like the Associated Press run with the one that seems obviously incorrect and you begin to think, “Do they know something I don’t know?”

If you spend any time in the journalism field, particularly television, you’ll hear complaints about every misspelling. (And if you make a misspelling, you should hear complaints, because we’re supposed to get every word correct.)

Sometimes, you get the snide comments about it being time to hire a copyeditor. I’ve worked in television now for nearly 27 years and I’ve never shared office space with such a beast. I’ve always thought they were imaginary. It’d be wonderful to see one in person, don’t get me wrong, but in terms of someone who does nothing but check for bad grammar or misspellings, I’ve just never run across such a person.

Though as I’m sure you can probably imagine if you routinely check out my grammar-related posts, I think it might actually be a fun job to have.

The other comment you’re surely going to receive is a reminder to run a spellcheck.

The headline that inspired this post is a perfect example of why a spellcheck wouldn’t help.

I noticed the headline on TVNewsCheck. I realize that between the time I write this post and the time you see it, the headline will probably have been corrected. But as I write this now, the headline reads:

SCOTUS Pases On Madden Video Game Case

SCOTUS is, of course, an acronym for Supreme Court of the United States. But it’s that second word that got my attention.

Shouldn’t that be passes? As in, “We’ll pass on this, thank you very much”?

As it turns out, yes, it should be passes.

But there’s a chance that spellcheck wouldn’t have caught the mistake because pases, though wrong here, actually is a word.

It’s just that it’s not from the legal world. Pase, pronounced PAH-sey, refers to a bullfighter’s maneuver in which he uses his capa or muleta to get the bull’s attention and lead its attack. It’s worth noting that the capa is the red cape and the muleta is a smaller red cloth that’s similar to the capa.

If spellcheck is aware of the bullfighting reference to pase, it wouldn’t have flagged the headline.

That leaves the reader to wonder, “If I saw it, why didn’t the professional writer?” Sometimes, you have to consider how many words that professional writer produces in a single day. When you look at volume, one misspelled word, though still not what any writer would ever want, becomes slightly less egregious. Unless, of course, that misspelling happens to occur in a headline, where more attention should have been paid, if for no other reason because that glaring mistake is so much larger.

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Patrick is a Christian with more than 27 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.