Notes from a proofreader: check for these words

WARNING: This post contains language some readers may find offensive. But we’re all adults, right?

You learn a lot when you work in the editorial profession. I’ve proofread texts on subjects from self-hypnosis to the Industrial Revolution, and they’ve all taught me something new. Some of the things I have learnt are very specific in nature, but some are more general and it is those I am planning to share on my blog.


A big clock. Image: Pixabay

This post is about words you should probably do a global search for before you declare your editing and proofreading process complete. I knew about some of these from my training, but they pop up in real life with alarming regularity. “What are you on about, Hannah?” I hear you say. Well, I’m talking about misspelling words such as public, count and shirt. Leave a letter out of one of those and the result is a tad embarrassing. And it happens. I’ve seen it in real proofs for real books.

This isn’t an exhaustive list,  but I’ll add to it as I discover more. I suggest adding a global search for these words to your list of editing and proofreading tasks:

  • Cock (when you meant clock)
  • Cunt (when you really, really meant count)
  • Fag (instead of flag)
  • Poof (when it should have been proof – particularly a danger if you write proofreader a lot)
  • Pubic (when you meant public)
  • Shit (instead of shirt)

Obviously, you will sometimes deliberately use those words, but coming across an unintended use of pubic is never ideal. They are hard to spot because they are so similar to the intended word and we often read what we expect to be there, not what is actually there. Our brains will just fill in the missing letter. Spellcheck is not going to flag these errors for your attention, so checking for them is something you need to do manually (unless you have specialist software to do it for you). And if you only check one (although I’m not sure why you would only do one) it should be pubic. That one likes to pop up quite often.

Are there any words with missing letters that have left you red-faced? Let me know in the comments!


8 thoughts on “Notes from a proofreader: check for these words

  1. I run into “shit” a lot. I suppose because it’s spelled similarly to shirt, shot, and sit. And I must admit: I get a little tickled when I find an accidental curse word while editing.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Haha I’m so prone to these. I also add letters for some reason, so ‘beast’ becomes ‘breast’. Hilarity ensues. 🙄😄

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Great post! And may I add that even we proofreaders need someone else to proofread *us*. I once misspelled someone’s surname in a small company publication where I worked – and was especially embarrassed since I’d always been a thorn in her side over *her* misspellings.

    But re the naughty words, you brought to mind a really bad slip I once *heard* rather than saw. A well-known TV sports announcer was commentating on a hockey game, and instead of “and here comes Milt Schmidt, up along the boards…” he said (as you can probably guess) “here comes Milt Shit, up along…” Arghh! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh, I know. It makes it very obvious to me that if I were ever to publish a book I would need a good proofreader to help me out! Your heard example reminds me of the difficulties many newsreaders have with saying “Jeremy Hunt”, much to most people’s amusement.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Luckily I had a great proofreader for my forthcoming book. My boyfriend is even more persnickety than I am! It made for some fun discussions! 😁


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