PULLMAN, Wash. — A word usage Web site that explains that you really didn’t mean
“aerobic numbers” but rather “Arabic numbers,” and not “Cadillac converter” but “catalytic
converter,” and surely you didn’t mean “nip it in the butt,” could be fun to use. USA TODAY
Online and Internet users around the world agree.
Washington State University English professor Paul Brians, who built the site called
Common Errors in English, was notified last week that it was selected as a “Hot Site” by USA
TODAY Online. Sam Meddis, Hot Sites editor, explained, “Just as we do with top-rated movies
and TV programs, we look daily for Web sites that are likely to be sure hits with readers — sites
that seek to astound and delight, inform or amuse, by exhibiting something remarkable in
graphics, content or both.”
The site offers explanations about how to choose between such similar words such as
“hippie” and “hippy” or “pompom” and “pompon” and how to spell difficult words. For example,
it notes that in Mohandas Gandhi’s name the H follows the D, not the G, and further explains that
“‘Mahatma’ (great soul) is an honorific title, not actually part of his birth name.” There is even a
section, called Non-Errors, about “usages people keep telling you are wrong but which are
actually standard in English.”
Although the site is not the most comprehensive or the strictest, Brians believes it achieves
his goal of providing help to students and teachers that is humorous, memorable and accessible.
“Most explanations are above the heads of the people who need the explanation,” Brians said.
“English teachers are used to trying to teach reluctant learners how to improve their writing, but
the charm of the Web is that people only use it only when they are looking for information they
want; and it is immensely rewarding to me because they are very grateful.” Even though the site
is not aimed at foreign language users, Brians reports that he has received invitations to visit
appreciative people in Bahrain, Costa Rica and Korea who have used the site.
His site has received well over 140,000 hits since he put it up in March of 1997 and he
receives frequent requests for permission to copy it from teachers, home schoolers and editors
around the world. He also receives many suggestions about the site and constantly adds to and
revises it.
The site received a second citation this week from New Zealand Internet consultant, Mac
McLellan, who linked to it from his site, saying, “If you are in love with English and the correct
use of it, have a look at the Common Errors in English page, have a chuckle, and then ensure that
you don’t make the same mistakes.”
Previously the site was named an Incredibly Useful Site in Yahoo Internet Life Magazine in
1997; cited as a Yahoo Site of the Week; and recommended by Netsurfer Digest, the Weekend
Australian, the Bangkok Post, the Indianapolis Star-Tribune, the Los Angeles Times, the Seattle
Times, and Inside the Internet — the Web magazine. It’s also on the Web at Surfing the Net with
Kids, Pacific Bell’s Knowledge Network, and other locations.
Brians’ site is located at . Enjoy!
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