Monday, May 23, 2011

An A to Z of Editorial Peeves: K

My ongoing alphabetical list of editorial peeves, those little things that people do with their words that rub me the wrong way.

If you're just joining us, why not start from the beginning?

Words that really start with C (or worse, Q)

This isn’t so much a problem in written works, but in company naming. But it’s a deliberate word-choice issue that really bugs me, so I’m putting it here.

I grew up in a small farm town nestled between the Indianapolis suburbs to the north and acres of cornfields to the south. Most of the businesses in my hometown, like the shops in many hamlets and villages around the country, were little family-run affairs. One such business that appeared in the mid-80s was a “salon” that the owners called Korner Klips.

Even at that young age (let’s say I was about 8), the name of that establishment irked me. I had seen K-sounding Cs replaced with Ks before so that multiple words started with the same letter. King’s Kars, maybe. Or Kids’ Kuts. I would roll my eyes at these “creative respellings” but then quickly move on.

But Korner Klips was different. Here, they took two words that already started with the same letter and respelled them with a different yet still matching letter. Why? Presumably because a K looks like a pair of scissors. (A C, on the other hand, looks more like a pair of calipers,* and no one wants to know how much of a fathead they are when they get their hair cut.)

It doesn’t take long to compile a list of similarly mangled business names online. There’s Korner Kuts (which also bears the unwanted association with cutting corners), Kleen Kars (a double-whammy, with the extra misspelling of clean), Khaos Krew, and myriad others. I hate them all.

Worse still are names like Kwik Kopy, Kwik Kleen, and Kwik Lok, with the qu- swapped out for a kw-. (Makes me shudder just to look at them.) I don’t know why people are so averse to Q words. I see no sign of the opposite (let’s call it the “alternate misspelling”) catching on: no “Quick Qopy” or “Quick Qlean” or “Quick Loq.” (If you qatch sight of one, snap a kwik piq and let know please!)

Call me a fuddy-duddy, but I don’t think names like these say “We are creative and witty.” They say “We kan’t spell.”

And for what it’s worth, I never got my hair cut at Korner Klips.

Karats and carats and carets and carrots

Homophone heaven!

A karat is a measure of gold fineness equal to one-twenty-fourth pure gold in a metal alloy. This means that a chunk of pure, unadulterated gold is 24-karat gold. If someone tries to sell you a 28-karat gold ring, run-don’t-walk away. A carat is a measure of weight (equal to 200mg) of precious stones. So an expensive ring might have 5 carats worth of diamonds set in 24-karat gold.

My dictionary also lists karat as a variant spelling of carat, but not vice versa. If you’re dealing with a jeweler, you’ll want to keep the two separate.I don't know how you'll keep it straight, though. If you have a mnemonic that helps you keep your carats separate from your karats, feel free to leave it in the comments.

A caret is a little wedge shape that editors and proofreaders use (or used, before everything was done on computers) to indicate where some new text needed to be inserted. The caret shares a key with the 6 on your computer’s keyboard.

And finally, a carrot is a pointy, edible root that apparently got named after they named the orange.**

If you have a hard time keeping them straight, don’t feel too bad. Leave it to Bugs Bunny to exchange karats for carrots.


A kerfuffle is a disturbance, a ruckus, a brouhaha. I like this word and I wish people would use it more often. It sounds like someone farting in a church pew.

* Note:Tangent: “X-Kaliper,” is a trademarked name for a laser caliper used to measure large objects. I love the play on the name Excaliber (which doesn’t contain a K), plus it gets a bonus for the X because it measures XL-sized objects. But why in the world did they change the C, the only caliper-shaped letter in the name, into a K? Does the madness never end?

** I stole that joke from Demetri Martin.