Spell checkers have eliminated the vast majority of spelling errors in student papers. What has replaced the standard misspelling is the “correctly spelled but not the right word” error. Or, if you want to be all Latinate and pedantic, you could call them “Homophone Errors.” The word is spelled as it should be, so the spellchecker doesn’t pick it up, but the usage is wrong. The classic one, for me, is the frequent confusion between “their,” “there,” and “they’re.”

My favorite such errors are peculiar to military history. The first is the substitution of the word “calvary” for the word “cavalry,” as in “The calvary charged across the field.” Given that “calvary” means the “place where Jesus was crucified” and translates roughly as “place of skulls,” the mental image that this brings upon reading is quite disturbing.

Deadly at Short Range

My other favorite, and the particular subject of the title today, is the substitution of “canon” for “cannon,” as in “The canon belched flame and shot at the enemy lines.” Since the major meanings for “canon” (besides being a camera company) are “an authoritative list of books accepted as Holy Scripture” or “a clergyman belonging to the chapter or the staff of a cathedral or collegiate church,” this also creates an impressive vision.

Why do I mention this today? Because the New York Times, blast the dark and necrophagus necrophagous souls of their copy editors, have managed to let the latter such error slip into today’s edition. In a review of William Gurstelle’s Absinthe and Flamethrowers: Projects and Ruminations on the Art of Living Dangerously, which is apparently about the best ways to blow one’s self up in the garage and was inspired by a David Brooks’ (!?…@#$#!) column, the Times puts in the middle of the review in larger letters (what are those interjections called?) the phrase “How to make your own gunpowder and a canon to match.”

I read it. I spat coffee. I screamed. I annoyed my wife. Luckily, she is a good and patient woman, so I survived to write this post. The error is not present in the online copy, so (because we are a full service blog), I include a photo:


It’s bad enough that the paper of record has declared the split infinitive acceptable. Now, my students can argue vociferously that “canon” is an reasonable alternate spelling of “cannon.”* The Times says so!

*This assumes that any of them read the Times.