The Becuase Effect (sic)

The latest issue of the New Scientist poses an interesting question in its Feedback column:

Is that rigth?

LIKE so many Feedback readers, Graham Barrow has an enquiring mind and a zest for research. So when he found himself wondering how common his most frequent misspellings were, he went straight to a famous web search engine to find out. As a consultant specialising in training, he regularly miskeys that word and types “traiing” instead. He is not alone. The FWSE tells him there are 52,700 pages on the web containing the word.

That pales into insignificance compared with the next word he tried – “rigth” – which appears 733,000 times (and which has often appeared in draft versions of this column). But even “rigth” is a minnow compared with the last word he checked. “Becuase”, he points out, sounds like it ought to be a treatment for hay fever. If it was, it would be a very popular one, since it appears no fewer than 4,950,000 times in the FWSE’s listing.

Barrow leaves us with a challenge. Is “becuase” the most common typo in the English language? Or can readers find a more popular one?

Common misspellings on the internet. Now there’s a thought. [I couldn’t help headline the story The Becuase Effect!].

If I disregard “teh” for “the”, on the basis that many of the early hits were actually for something other than “the” misspelled, the best I could come up with was:


which yielded 6.18m hits, easily displacing “becuase”. Can you beat that? If so please go ahead and contact Feedback directly at New Scientist. Or comment here and I will do it for you.

22 thoughts on “The Becuase Effect (sic)”

  1. Hmmm… of course the problem with using a search engine for this is that it won’t find a misspelling that is actually a word itself – ‘form’ for ‘from’ springs to mind as a common one that even gets missed by proofreaders.

  2. The word I see misspelt the most often is most definitely “manager” spelt as “manger”. Like Lloyd’s choice, this is another one that can’t be picked up by the search engines.

    I’ve often wondered – without actually bothering to find out – if there’s a way of maintaining a custom list of valid words that MS Word is to flag as mis-spelt. Now that would be a useful feature for those of us who rarely write nativity plays!

  3. O lny srmat poelpe can raed tihs.
    I cdnuolt blveiee taht I cluod aulaclty uesdnatnrd waht I was rdanieg. The phaonmneal pweor of the hmuan mnid, aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn’t mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoatnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be in the rgh it pclae. The rset can be a taotl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit a porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe. Amzanig huh? yaeh and I awlyas tghuhot slpeling was ipmorantt!

  4. The word ‘colour’ has been mis-spelt 506,000,000 times according to Google. Of course some people would contend that ‘color’ was the correct spelling, but that’s a matter of opinion.

    I found 6,490,000 for ‘accomodate’.

    A useful source of common misspellings is the Autocorrect list in Microsoft Word.

  5. I see two discussions here: one to do with misspellings (where the person intended to spell things a particular way, and that way was wrong or, in one case, American); the other to do with typos or mistypings (where the person intended to spell things a particular way, and typed it differently).

    So, for example, comercial could be the way the person actually intended to spell it, while commerical was a typo. I interpreted the New Scientist question as looking for the commonest typo rather than the commonest misspelling.

  6. It’s going to be tough to distinguish between a misspelling due to illiteracy and one due to haste or carelessness.

    Are you only allowing transpositions?

    This could end up like Mornington Crescent if you’re not careful.

  7. JP, I’d suggest there’s a third discussion.
    That people dliberately mis spell or rather don’t bother to spell correctly. They do whatever quickest so long as their understood and get their message across. For the younger gen there’s also the sms phenom’n which translates itself to on line script

  8. Any mention in here for misuse of homophones?

    For example, the use of the word “their” when “they’re” is what’s meant is a classic one.

    It’d be exceptionally difficult, I would imagine, to work out what the most commonly misused homophones are but I’ll put a fiver down right now to say “there/their/they’re” will make the top three.

    Back on the subject of misspellings – and remaining with the betting theme – my money would be on “its/it’s” (also in the top three for homophone misuse.) I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen someone get it the wrong way round.

    And another thing…

    No, okay – I’ll stop there. (:o,)

  9. Given that I seem to have triggered this debate I thought I’d add my two-pennyworth (or should that be tuppenny-worth).

    I believe that the internet is starting to evolve (or elide) into a new language and typos are one of the major contributors to this effect. “Teh” and “pwn” are already accepted as words in their own right (or “pwn rigth”) on the internet and each has their own Wikipedia article. If you add in the ubiquitousness of abbreviations like “lol” and “rofl” (which are now starting to creep into ordinary speech) as well as txt speak and l33t (or leet) it seems clear to me that the likelihood is over the next few years the internet will have evolved into a distinct language.

  10. Welcome to the conversation, Graham, and thanks for clarifying where your thoughts came from and led to.

    Incidentally, on “two-pennyworth” versus “tuppenny-worth”, the usage I’m familiar with is different: I would have said that “two-penn’orth” was the primary and original usage. And “tuppence-worth” seems to be the more modern usage. Even that seems to have evolved into “I’ll throw my tuppence in”.

    I haven’t had a chance to check Fowler, Partridge or Gowers, and will follow up when I get the chance.

  11. Many thanks for the welcome.

    As an example of the power and speed of “The Famous Web-search Engine” referred to in the NS article, a search on the word “becuase” now yields this blog as first out of over 5,000,000!

    An extraordinary example of an Internet circular reference it seems to me! It reminds me of Dave Gorman’s book about Googlewhacks which stopped all the examples quoted from being Googlewhacks because they were being quoted so often on the web.

    I wonder if the debate about “becuase” and other similarly misspelled words will cause a similar effect (and, maybe, lead to “becuase” evolving into a new “Internet” word of its own).

  12. JP,

    The statistics on common misspellings are very interesting. Does this also imply that a large number of people do not bother to use spell check or use editing tools which does not have a spell checker?

  13. A Miss Speller submits mispeled words to the pseudodictionary quiet often.

    No, that does not make the misspellings real words just because they appear in “an online dictionary.”

    I found this site because she submitted “becuase” just a few minutes ago.

  14. What’s incredibly interesting — if you typed or — both fairly predictable misspellings — you are redirected to Google.
    That’s what makes them so much fun.

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