Can you imagine a world without misspellings? A place where the individual could spell English words the way they thought best? Soundz gud, rite?
‘N’ ‘O’ spells NO.
We used to have such a dystopia: it wasn’t until the Gutenberg Press started churning out books in the 15th century that English spelling became widely standardized. Ironically, it may take the internet – the ‘sequel’ to the Gutenberg Press – to get us back there.
On the internet, misspelling is rife. Much of it is actually a good thing. Some misspell to avoid detection and/or censorship. Others do it to save precious keystrokes and characters. These misspellings have evolved into their own unofficial standard and now look ‘misspelled’ if gotten wrong. Meanwhile, “people are representing their spoken dialects more through spelling in spaces like Twitter and Instagram,” says Lauren Squires, an Ohio State University linguist.
And then there is Twitter, where scribes scribe with hurried abandon and regular tweeters assume their own errors will go unnoticed. They don’t. In fact, WordTips decided to be that guy by counting the common spelling mistakes on Twitter around the world to see who spells which words wrong the most.
WordTips compiled a list of 350 oft-misspelled words in the English language and their most common misspellings. Then we searched and categorized a sample of over two billion geotagged tweets from around the world to find which word was most commonly misspelled in each place. U.S. English and British English versions got a pass.
Coolly is the most misspelled word in eight North American countries. As we found to be the case around the world, people are blindsided by that second “l” and prefer to go with the incorrect “cooly.” But cool is an adjective; to make it an adverb, one should coolly add -ly.
In Haiti, rhyme is the most-common tripping point. People tend to go with “rime,” which is actually how the word used to be spelled. It was the 17th-century printing industry that formalized the rule of adding those pretentious extra letters - after Samuel Johnson mistakenly attributed “rime’s” provenance to the Ancient Greek rhythmos.
The generation that spanned the turn of the latest century grappled as one with the spelling of millennium. Just a decade later, everybody learned the word tsunami. But in Suriname, the battle goes on: millennium is the most misspelled word on Twitter today, with users variously omitting the second “l” or “n.” There are two of both, folks!
Miniscule is the second-most misspelled word in the world. It tops 39 countries, including Guyana and Ecuador. The trick is to remember that the start of the word comes from minus, not mini. Hence, minuscule not “miniscule.”
Adultery is an A-list affair in Monaco, where the sovereign prince Albert II famously introduced a secret love child to the world following a gossip magazine exposé following the alleged affairs of his late father, who was married to the Hollywood idol Grace Kelly. Perhaps this is why Monaco’s Twitterati habitually add an “a” where the “e” should be in adultery, making it the tiny principality’s most-misspelled word.
Sergeant is the most misspelled word in four countries: Austria, Bulgaria, Georgia, and Lithuania. And who can blame them? There is a distinct “ah” vowel sound at the beginning of this word, tempting many to add an ‘a’ where the first ‘e’ should be. Major mistake. But that strange muddle of vowels after the ‘g’ only makes things more confusing for poor spellers.
Syria’s most misspelled word only becomes an actual word when misspelled. In fact, it should be two words: a lot. Syrians tend to combine it into “alot” or “allot.” Syria is the only country in the world where this is the most common English spelling mistake.
Unlike Syria, Qatar shares its nightmare word – buoy – with several other countries, mostly in Africa. A buoy is “a floating object that is moored in a bay or channel to indicate hazards,” but it is usually pronounced the same as boy, “a male child.” While some Americans do try to incorporate that distracting “u” into their pronunciation of buoy, others understandably find themselves thrown overboard by that extra vowel, which is probably a leftover from the word’s Dutch origins.
Vanuatu has a unique number one misspelled word: definitely – although it was once found to be the most-misspelled word in the language. People tend to write it as they hear it, making the word “definately” with an ‘a’ where the middle ‘e’ should be. If this is a blind spot for you, remember this word has the same root as definitive, which looks a lot more like it sounds.
Protester is the most-misspelled word in Mongolia, among six other countries outside of this region. While “protestor” with an ‘o’ is an acceptable alternative, the version ending ‘er’ is emphatically preferred by formal writers – although even top journalists struggle to stay consistent with their choice of ending.
Algeria and Sierra Leone each have a nightmare word that fits a common pattern of misspelling. Dumbbell (Algeria) and underrate (Sierra Leone) are each compound words where a double letter in the middle doesn’t quite feel right – hence, some writers default to the incorrect “dumbell” or “underate.” But dumbbell was originally a “a dumb bell,” which is one that couldn’t ring. To underrate is to rate something below/under its true value. If a word sounds like it was originally two words, pay attention to where they join. (The same goes for “mispelling” (misspelling)!)
Aggression is the most-misspelled word in six African countries (and nowhere else in the world), second only to buoy. People tend to skip one ‘g,’ although going with one ‘s’ is also a common mistake. In case your Latin is any better than your English, try remembering this tip: “Aggressive and its related words conform to the rule of thumb that words of Latin origin tend to have doubled consonants in the middle,” advises Macmillan Dictionary. “It comes from the past participle of the Latin verb aggredi, meaning ‘to attack.’”
We identified the most uniquely popular misspellings in each state by comparing the misspelling rate of each word locally with the nationwide rate and picking the word that was proportionally highest in each area. While coolly is the most misspelled nationwide, Kansas and Kentucky struggle with maintenance more commonly than average, and Oklahomans – worryingly – struggle with “writeing” (writing) altogether.
The list of most-misspelled words in the U.S. reads like a short story of a wild night out. It starts with the world’s number one misspelling, coolly, and proceeds with liaison and drunkenness before winding up in a field with a bellwether. A bell-what-now? This unusual word is commonly misspelled “bellweather” but has nothing to do with the elements. Rather, it refers to a castrated male sheep (wether) that leads the flock carrying a bell – although it is often used to refer to other, non-sheep kinds of trendsetters.
Canada shares the same top 10 misspelled words as the U.S. but in a different order. In Canada, liaison supersedes sergeant as the third top word. Don’t forget that there is a second ‘i’ after the ‘a’ – otherwise, it would be pronounced “li-asson” rather than “li-yayson.” Supersede is in there, too: it feels like that middle ‘s’ should be a ‘c,’ but this is generally considered an error. The trick is to remember that ‘s’ comes after ‘c’ in the alphabet – and supersedes it!
Ah, the UK, where English came from. Their spelling’s got to be top-notch, right? Tell that to the road painters who wrote school incorrectly (“shcool”) on the street outside an educational institution at the start of term. School doesn’t figure in the UK’s top 10, which is similar to the U.S. leaderboard but features lightning and inoculate among its nightmare words. The latter comes from the Latin in- and -oculus (eye), so only one ‘n’ is needed.
Accommodate stands out as Australia’s most unique trouble word. It is misspelled “accomodate” or “acommodate” around 17.6% of the time. Apparently, it’s a particular sticking point for real estate agents, to whom the following advice applies: “your correct accommodation includes double garage, double vanities, double C and double M!”
“No-one should ever feel bad because they aren’t masters of the weirdness and eccentricities of English spelling,” as Dictionary.com’s John Kelly told Reader’s Digest. “These words are really hard to spell, no matter how good at English you are.”
Well, there’s no need to feel bad – but if you want to ace that Scrabble board or anagram puzzle, or just to improve the standard and readability of your writing, here’s our full breakdown of the words to look at depending on where you live.
You can also develop habits to improve your spelling as you go. For example, try:
Follow these steps, and your success is garenteed ❌. Garanteed ❌. Guaranteed ✅.
We started with a list of the 350 most misspelled words in the English language, noting down the correct spellings and the most common misspellings.
After gathering a sample of over two billion geotagged tweets from around the world, we isolated the word in each country that had the highest % of misspellings (i.e., the most misspelled word).
We repeated this process for every state in the United States. U.S. English and British English variations in spelling were both considered viable and not misspellings in the States Map.
This data was gathered in July 2022.