Made You Thunk: Engage Your Readers With Typos and Misquotes


This post is by Nick Cernis.

There’s a famous adage: “With great power comes a high electricity bill.”

Writers enjoy a multitude of tools to exert power over their readers. If you’re a purist, you’ll despise the very thought of the weapon I’m about to offer:

Sometimes typose suck you in.

You couldn’t stand that, could you? I fully admit—it makes me cringe with pain too. But if you want an engaged audience and you use them sparingly, typos and misquotes can really draw your readers in.

How to Wake a Nation

Misspellings and invented words work too.

An author I shan’t name once confessed to deliberately mangling words in their writing online. They found a deliciously wicked pleasure in using “Portugalian” instead of “Portuguese” when referring to the people of Portugal. Utter chaos ensued.

In addition to emails from proud Portugalians linking to evidence of their country’s fine wine, climate and history, the author awoke to a delicate brew of comments kindly correcting the error and commenting on the article. In just one day, hordes of lurkers had crawled out of the network to engage the author in conversation.

When you’ve drawn out the shy ones once, it’s far easier to do it again. As the saying goes, “once bitten, twice as likely to come back.”

Frankly My Dear, You’re Misquoting Me

Our cheeky friend Miss Quote can deliver the same delicate poison as Miss Spelling, but with a twist.

As well as the ability to drip-feed humour and invite comment, misquotes provoke a mental hiccup. Your reader must pause to reconsider them. My opening sentence may have prompted a short brain fart while you stopped briefly to recall what great power is really meant to bring.

The power of misquoting comes almost entirely from the disruption of your reader’s thought process. This is a concept central to the gentle art of persuasion, and one that can make your writing all the more convincing. Boom! And then they’re hooked.

I’m not suggesting that you deliberately corrupt your posts to slip your readers false information. After all, there are plenty of drunken Wikipedia users to steal that trophy from you.

Three Quick Ways To Add Spice With Wordplay Today

  1. Slip a clever typo, misspelling or fabricated word into your next post and see who bites.
  2. Misquote a well-known saying from your niche in a way that provokes a response.
  3. Incite a punn riot in the comments of this post.

Warning: Don’t Make This Stupid Mistake!

I thought it would be funny to apply the concept of deliberate word butchery to everyday life. Boy, was I wrong!

While preparing food in the kitchen with my long-term girlfriend, I got down on one knee and uttered the immortal words, “Darling, will you marinade me?” It was lucky I’d hidden the knives first.

Use your new power responsibly!

About the Author: Nick Cernis is the proprietor of Put Things Off, a blog that helps freelancers, entrepreneurs and busy people just like you work smarter, play harder and live the lives they love.

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Reader Comments (64)

  1. says

    I’ve actually done this with the phrase “I’ma horiable spelar” and people were correcting me left and right. Geez, it seem like most of them didn’t realize I did it on purpose. Here’s you sign!

  2. says

    I pointed to the Eggcorn Database in a posted titled, “For all intensive purposes this is an Eggcorn.” I received a lot of e-mail on that one: mostly from people who did not actually read the post. 😉

  3. says

    I’m guessing this trick works better with blogs that are mostly read by copywriters and marketing-type folks. Many other readers aren’t nearly as “anal” when it comes to spelling, and either won’t notice or won’t care. But I’d like to try it anyway!

  4. says

    This has been used by small shops and smart marketers at fairs and exhibitions for many years.

    A carefully placed typo catches the eye of the casual passer-by who stops and politely tells the marketer of their mistake.

    While they’re waiting to tell them, they are focused on the sales message which they wouldn’t take in while hurrying past as they usually do.

  5. says

    I’ve just signed on to to try to make some money from writing or editing or whatever, and just to familiarize myself with what’s going on there, I looked around at other people’s profiles.

    And you’re right, because I couldn’t help emailing a guy who wrote he was interested in doing profreading work. He hasn’t corrected it yet, so I can only guess it was either intentional or he couldn’t read my email.

  6. Jess says

    Ha, what a Punny post!!! That is actually a good trick and it might make me feel better about all the typos I have made in the past!

  7. 4ems says

    Sorry–I have to buck the trend. When I see typos and other mistakes, I assume the writer doesn’t care enough to get it right. Consequently, I question everything about the piece.

  8. says

    So is it ok for me to claim that all the accidental typos I leave were really placed there on purpose? I swear that’s what really happened.

    Good and funny post. I can picture your girlfriend’s response and I think you made the right move in hiding the knives.

    When I have purposely misused language it’s usually been with humor in mind, but you’ve given me a few new ideas. Thanks.

  9. says

    Still chuckling.

    BTW, I assume it was the fact that you used the noun “marinade,” rather than the verb “marinate,” that caused your girlfriend to contemplate knifely homicide?

  10. says

    Incorrect phrases are my thing. I recently–and deliberately–used the phrase, “zoological-style animals…” to describe animals in a zoo.

    No one has posted a comment about it, but I keep waiting for someone to say, “EVERY animal is a zoological animal–not just zoo animals!”

    I used it because I thought it sounded funnier (I write a humor blog) than “zoo-style” animals.

  11. says

    I disagree…while it does catch my attention sometimes, it never does so in a good way. I have unsubscribed to newsletters because of too many typos and canceled RSS Feeds because of it.

    I’m fine with a minor typo here and there, because we all do it occasionally, but it’s never a “good thing” in my mind.

    …except when I do it…ummm, yeah. because that’s always on purpose.

  12. says

    Thanks for your saucy advice on how to spice our content up a bit.

    My fave is the made up words…every now and then it helps to throw something a little ecletic into the mix.

    Thanks for your insight!

  13. says

    Hi Nick, it’s great to see you here, and thanks for making me laugh once again.

    Not sure I’m ready for this level of abandon on my own blog though…. not yet anyway :-)


  14. Ryan says

    Never thought that this would be done on purpose. I really thought people relied on their spell-checkers and grammar-checkers too much. Funny, I just made a comment on someone elses blog about that very thing.

  15. says

    When done right, and used for humour, this can work really well. But, you have to be very careful, otherwise your readers may just assume that you’re a sloppy writer who didn’t catch the mistake(s). If they make that assumption, your intentional error will backfire.

  16. Nikki101 says

    Loved the post and as a copywriter I make all my income from the fact that a lot of people can’t spell. People who promote themselves as copyrighters (!), printers who specialise in stationary (!) and those in pubic relations (read that slowly) are all valued clients now…

  17. says

    Thanks for the warm response and funny anecdotes! Yes, it’s a risky strategy, but I’ve seen it used to great effect.

    Bonus points to Julie for the verb-noun swap spot. In honesty, she was too busy scowling to correct my error!

  18. says

    Personally, I tend to glance over the occasional typo that everyone who is human makes. What I do enjoy, both on the committing end and the observing end, are real twists on grammar or sentence structure.

    Scan scan scan scan… hey, wait a second… back up… read… read closer… hm. Read more… GOTCHA!

    Whoever did it made me stick longer and actually feel important because I caught the mistake, which is smart. It’s empowering the reader.

    Whoever catches me doing this usually contacts me to let me know what a brilliant sod they are… and we end up conversing, becoming friends, networking, sharing business or getting business.

    Example: Personality and flair is the most important aspect. That’s wrong – it should be “are”, not “is”. But it’s enough of a hiccup to make people pause and wonder if “personality and flair” is a set or individual words. :)

    But blatant misspelling? I don’t suggest it as this reflects poor writing.

  19. Howard says

    Kinda makes me think of MAD Magazine’s satirizing of IBM founder Thomas Watson’s posting signs everywhere that read “THINK”.

    MAD’s read “THIMK”.

    Makes you sit up and notice, don’t it……

  20. says

    I teach an English night class at our local community college and got this gem from one of my students as part of a story about a man who thought he was immune to poison ivy: “But that night when he took a bath, the poison ivy oil floated to the top and got all over everything…even his gentiles.”

  21. Joshua Trbovich says

    Haha, awesome. I’m glad other people do this too. In some random chatroom, I just decided to say, “I’m a cereal killer,” purposely mispelled. I wanted to see what people would say, and I got like 30 private messages saying that I spelled it wrong.

    Also, I love to put the suffix “ality” at the end of words it doesn’t belong on.

  22. says

    What if the last thing you want to attract is pedantic correction junkies?

    On the other hand, when I see mistakes, the author I’m reading loses points (to the point where I will just stop reading and go away, never to return), so I guess I *am* a pedantic correction junkie. Oh dear, I guess I’ll never hit the big time.

  23. says

    Ah ha ha, Lynda makes an excellent point.

    This is an entertaining idea, but at the end of the day, I don’t think any of us can ever beat the master–I speak, of course, of Yogi Berra. The thought that I was just mustering weak Yogi would probably make me hit the delete key.

  24. says

    No thanks. That’s way too gimmicky for me. I’ll sometimes create a word of my own right on the spot for fluency purposes–if it says what I want to say and there’s a purpose to it, but to deliberately misspell words and misquote people?

    You never know who’s reading your blog, and if you have any professional aspirations, you’re better off keeping your copy as clean and accurate as possible.

    There are much better ways of manipulating the English language to elicit attention.

  25. says

    Lynda — pedants are people too. In fact, I think there’s an untapped market for a t-shirt that says “pedance our people to” to flush the shy ones out. Who could resist correcting that?

    Or, if you’re in a particularly wicked mood: “pedunce of the world untie!”

  26. says

    I got a whole blog post out of a typo I had on another site. Word had corrected solvation (the process of dissolving) to salvation. Needless to say the ensuing comments and emails were a baptism of fire.


  27. says

    Nick, somehow my inner Leonard Cohen fan kicks in and I’d need to have “the and of love” on the back of the “pedance our people to” shirt. Tragically, I’d probably end up on Engrish with a black bar across my eyes instead of a credit.

  28. says

    Zeppelin certainly did 😉

    Leppard on the other hand so blatantly borrowed the idea from Page et al to good effect, but borrowed all the same…


  29. says

    Don’t forget Limozeen!

    That explains a bit about John Chow’s use of the random oops-I-hit-the-wrong-key-I’m-ignoring-spell-ckecker “errors”.

    It’s a tool to see who’s actually READING the thing.

    Perhaps I should have used that back in school…

    “Well, Ms. Whatever, that was intentional. I wanted to know if you were actually reading the reports or just handing out random good grades to the popular kids…”

  30. says

    I generally try to be as meticulous as possible when writing, but I do occasionally create a made-upism as others have admitted to doing. I might try making them a little more obvious though. And I will ponder the pros and cons of using this advice on my heretofore perfect blog. (I’m lying there, I do make the occasional mistake here and there. 😀 )

  31. says

    Arent you worried that you might get some emails, but that many other peeple will think your stoopid for writing that way?

  32. says

    “your stoopid” is a good example of this article.

    stoopid was intentionally mis-spelled to catch my attention.

    i’m fairly certain that ‘your’ was used in lieu of ‘you’re’ probably for the same reason.

    it worked.


  33. says

    The difference between the right weird and spell check can be measured in frogs per acre.

    Spell check errors can be lots of fun–my students are always defiant, as in “I am defiantly going to run spellcheck before I turn in my next paper. ”

    M$ word turns my street address into Singlewide….how do they know?

    Never use a langourous word when a little attitude will do.

  34. says

    Of course the flaw in the ointment is that most typos are unintentional, resulting from the writers’ ignorance or apathy. There’s nothing wrong with making up your own words, but typoing on purpose unless the writer makes the joke abundantly clear just makes a hard-core grammarian cringe and move on to the next blog.

  35. Marna Reinhardt says

    This conversation makes me think of Archie Bunker from All in the Family. He was always messing up quotes and changing words. For example, one quote of his from a Google search reads: “Uh, no intense offended there.”

    Granted…much of what Archie said would hardly be allowed across the airwaves these days, but in watching reruns I find a lot of humour in how our precocious (I mean precious) English language was manipulated. The key, I think, is that the grammar blunder(s) is/are quirky enough to create the mental hiccup, but isolated (or flagrant!) enough to assure intention on the part of the writer.

    Loved the post…and the comets that pursued! :)


  36. says

    Nick! Your “Will You Marinade Me” is wonderful. Darn, wish I’d thought of it last year as a second line after “YES”.

    Here’s my version of a twist on marinating.

    As a speaker, I pre-write my introduction. My style is a combo of off the wall and theory, so the intro needs to reflect my credentials and my personality.

    After a full decade using this line, the audience still cracks up: “Maggie is more than a seasoned speaker, she’s marinated!”.

    I’ll be using your “marinading me” comment to top off our first anniversary next July! Kudos!

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