When I was in my twenties I went to an informal writers’ workshop every couple of weeks. Some of us read excerpts from our latest projects—or entire works, if they were short enough.
One week, a guy named George agitated to read something he’d just had accepted by Fate magazine (a journal of the weird, occult, and related matters). Everyone frowned when he read the title, “Captain Smith’s Fear-ee Ride.”
Wouldn’t “scary” work better? I thought to myself. So did everyone else, as it turned out--but we had a rule about not interrupting a reader.
George droned on through the piece, which was about a 19th-Century ship’s captain sighting strange lights in the sky and on the sea. We let him continue, until he reached the description of what the captain saw: “Without warning, a fear-ee display lit up the sky, and—“
“Wait, wait!” several people burst out. “Did you say ‘fear-ee’?”
“Yes, why?” George asked in all innocence.
“Spell that word!” a woman named Ruth shouted.
“F-I-E-R-Y,” George came back. “Fear-ee. Is there something wrong with that?”
“It’s pronounced ‘fiery’ and not fear-ee.” Ruth told him.
“Well, I never heard anyone pronounce the word,” George returned.
That seemed unlikely, but we took his word for it. People mispronounce words all the time.
Today I noted a variation of that in a news story about an old man buying a Chevrolet Camaro. It involved a man carrying a cane, and mentioned that the subject was “touting a cane.” I had an image of the guy waving the cane, calling out, “Gotta have it, gotta have it—only twenty bucks! It’s the best cane in the world! Buy one now!” Which did not fit the story.
I read it a second time, then got it: he was toting a cane. I imagine the reporter had never heard the word “tout” or “touting” pronounced, but had heard “toting” used in relation to someone carrying something. Add to it the possibility that she had never seen the word “toting,” but had read the word “touting” and mispronounced it in her mind as "toting," and it’s easy to see where the error came in.
That’s one of the more difficult “not caught by spell-check” situations. The lesson: it pays to expand your vocabulary. Had this reporter known how “touting” is pronounced, or had read "toting" somwhere, she wouldn’t have made the mistake.