Wednesday, February 10, 2016

There Is No “E” in Mathematics, Huh?

My last major project as a government employee was to help my department write new job descriptions for the state's IT workers. Those job descriptions would be used as a guide as every employee was forced to reapply for their jobs.



I was chosen to participate because my boss knew I could write. The task required quite a bit of writing. As the meetings started, though, I remembered why I don't like to work as part of a committee. It's hard to be heard when there are so many people offering input.



Toward the end of the project, a couple of brainiacs from a higher department came over to help. As we reviewed what we'd done, one of those brainiacs pointed out a typo.

"There's no 'e' in 'mathematics,'" he said.

"No, that's the right spelling," I said.

A discussion ensued, at which point I pulled out my phone to look it up and prove it. Just as I'd found the official spelling (mathematics), the original brainiac asserted his know-it-all-ness. "It's mathmatics without an 'e,'" he said very firmly.

This was me:



I actually thought it through like this: this was going to be a public document, posted on the Intranet for all employees to see. Thousands of people would be eyeballing that document over the next 20 years or so...or until they outsourced all the jobs to one of those call centers where someone with a heavy accent tells you his name is "Bob."



But the final thought I had on the matter, before letting this team put a document out requiring "mathmatics" as a skill, was that my name wasn't on it. Also, I figured all of those descriptions had to be approved by personnel. Surely someone, at some point, would know how to properly spell mathematics and catch the error...

Right?



Flash forward a year later. I was gone. I'd left to be a full-time freelancer, but I was also that "employee who left because she got a book deal." The guy who insisted there's no "e" in mathematics had no idea who I was, so there's no justice there. But there's justice in my mind. While I may not be perfect, even when it comes to grammar and spelling, I do know two things that every person compiling a written document should know:

1) How to Google

2) How to pay attention to that little red line in Word that tells you when you've spelled something incorrectly.



Have you ever had to bite your tongue when you knew someone was wrong about something?  

63 comments:

  1. I do it on a daily basis at my job...
    People like that you just can't argue with. They won't budge anyway and it's all about them getting their way than being right or wrong. Which is crazy. But you can't argue with crazy.

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    1. You can't...and you feel bad about it. There have been several times over my career when I tried to warn someone they were doing something really stupid and they refused to listen. That's exactly why I'm glad I don't work in an office!

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  2. That had to be frustrating. I always hated working with a committee because when it came to actual work, few participated. When it came to ideas, too many thought only their idea was viable. Too many people shut down to get along with everyone else. It is a wonder anything ever happens sometimes. Maybe this is why you only see one person working and everyone standing around when you drive by a road crew working.

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    1. If a leader is going to pull a committee together to work on something, that leader needs the basic skills necessary to manage a group. Unfortunately, that's almost NEVER the case. Brainstorming sessions can be effective, but only if the leader creates an environment where no idea is a bad one and has the skills necessary to elicit ideas from silent participants. But group work is rarely effective. It's better to divide tasks up and have everyone work individually.

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  3. When I worked in the corporate world, all the time! Only, I wasn't so great about biting my tongue. That's why I left.

    At the museum, a director insisted that "artifact" should now be spelled "artefact." I guess it's a traditional British spelling, but no one spells it that way anymore - it just looks weird. As a news director, I take fiendish pleasure in correcting it whenever they send me a news release to be posted. :)

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    1. I don't mean to offend you, but as a news director you should not be this subjective and biased and lead by your peeves. Artefact is in fact correct, artifact is just a lazy way Americans write it, and a professional you should stick to what dictionaries say especially when you are correcting others and you are not right. It just ain't right to be more precise.

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    2. As a professional freelance writer, I can attest to the fact that we have to go with the preferred American spelling in American dictionaries for American publications and websites. Webster has "artifact" as the proper American spelling. In fact, Merriam-Webster defines artefact as "chiefly British variant of artifact." When I wrote for British clients, I used British spellings like favour and colour...but that is unacceptable for American publications. Fortunately, all my clients are American now so things are far less complicated!

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    3. I've never seen it spelled "artefact." I must not read a lot of books in British spelling that mention that word :-) I am of course familiar with the -our, -ise and -re endings.

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  4. It is the most annoying of things when you are faced with an intellectually challenged superior. As a translator I do sometimes get into these problems similar as yours above with my corrector even though, as someone who is there to correct and check my text, she should be smarter than me and I shouldn't have to explain obvious things to her. She often puts mistakes into my texts too :) It's rather crazy.

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    1. I had a PR job for 8 years...my boss was a former English teacher. He taught me a lot, but he'd been an English teacher in the 60s. I was fresh out of journalism school and my way of doing things was more geared toward the way newspapers and magazines were written in the 90s. He never did get that...so I had to learn to write the way he liked it written. Otherwise, he'd just mark it up and I'd have to redo it.

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  5. Those are the kind of guys you can't argue with. You just hope somewhere along the line they will get put in their proper place.

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    1. Probably not. They gained power due to having a certain expertise--they just don't seem to realize that doesn't mean that expertise is in EVERYTHING!

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  6. This is exactly the reason I left the work world and started my own PR firm back in the day. I wasn't able to deal with people like this in a way I felt good about back then.

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    1. People definitely are the worst part of any kind of work. I like now that I only deal with them through email...and if I have a client who is difficult like that guy was, I can simply resign and find another one.

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  7. That would have been so frustrating...I am not sure what I would have done. The teacher part of me might have wanted to insist but it probably wouldn't have made a difference. I have a friend who often spells genre wrong...but I hesitate to correct her...hurt feelings, etc. these things are so touchy sometimes!

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    1. LOL, I once had a blogger friend who was always talking down about people who wrote commercial fiction. He was too good for that. Yet his writing was atrocious. He actually put apostrophes in theirs and ours. I never said anything, but you'd think if you were that much of a reader, you'd eventually pick up basic spelling and grammar.

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  8. Yes, many times. Situations where my experience tells me the decisions and paths taken by the people who decide are wrong and yet they don't want to listen or they pretend they do and brush it off. At the end of the day we are not responsible for the decisions other people make. Our job stops at pointing the obvious or wrong. When one uses blinkers professionally, no type of evidence will change their mind.

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    1. Yes, we can only advise...and sometimes people don't even want us to do that. I guess we all have to make our mistakes. It's still hard not to speak up. I face that dilemma with my freelance writing business occasionally. If my name is on something and someone corrects it and it's wrong, I DEFINITELY am going to speak up...but if it's under their name, once I've handed it over to them, it becomes theirs to do with as they please.

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  9. Go to a training? Okay sure. Not a bad way to spend paid company time. Volunteer me for a committee? You are soooo dead.

    Yep, this sounds very familiar. That argument doesn't even surprise me. Sat through similar ones.

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    1. Ugh, I know! Committees stink. I did my fair share of mandatory training classes, though. Workplace harassment, Title VI, dealing with difficult people... That difficult people class was particularly popular!

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  10. The only corporation I work for is our farm corporation and my husband is a poor speller, he aces at mathematics but has failing grades when it comes to spelling so my job is pretty secure even though I'm far from being the best. lol...

    What gets me guessing is trying to use the correct spelling for my American, British and Canadian friends on my blog and comments and Spellcheck is the worst help of all. All I can do is hope they can read my comments and appreciate that I have commented at all.

    Some people are never wrong even when they are dead wrong.
    Have a lovely day Stephanie.
    Hugs,
    JB

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    1. I've seen people in other countries complain that Americans think everyone does things the way we do. So at least you're sensitive to it. I don't change my spelling when communicating with people overseas unless I'm doing work for them with my freelance writing business. But I definitely understand when they send me something and it has their own spellings. Language differs from place to place. My British Facebook friends are more perplexed by the strange foods we eat here. "Biscuits and gravy" mean something very different over there--since biscuits are cookies and gravy is that dark brown stuff!

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  11. I know how frustrating it was for you. Sometimes I regretted not having the courage to speak out but I also know that these people will not hear me out.

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    1. Well...it was a roomful of people and the guy was a fairly high-up guy. Since I'd stated my point, to insist it was spelled wrong (since most of the room was then agreeing with him) would have been seen as "being difficult." In fact, I'm 99 percent sure my boss's boss (who was in the room) would have pulled me aside and reprimanded me for causing a scene if I'd insisted this upper-management guy was wrong.

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  12. Oh my, yes. Actually my husband likes to rant on occasion. Nothing harmful. He just has to speak things out and then he can process other ideas and opinions--once everything is spilled out. Patience is a life-long effort, eh?

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    1. What's the saying? You can be right or you can be happy. I've let someone be wrong many times because it just wasn't worth arguing!

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  13. I would never argue with anyone over spelling. According to my teachers year after year I learned there is an "F" in spelling.

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    1. Uh-oh! That was the one subject I was good at in school, actually.

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  14. Oh man I had a good laugh at this....

    We have a sign hanging up in the office: "God give me the patience to deal with stupid people without being an a***ole."

    "every employee was forced to reapply for their jobs"<-- that more or less sums up the government I think.

    This whole post is why I stick to working in small offices.

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    1. Oh yes...they created the IT positions for our government in the mid-1990s. They never really updated them. They suddenly realized that they might need to UDPATE those descriptions and then, oops, most of the people in those positions wouldn't qualify. They actually had the ignorance to believe they could get QUALIFIED IT workers at crazy-low pay...luckily I left. I don't know if I would have qualified for my position but I have a feeling I would have ended up working with a bunch of private-sector rejects.

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  15. When I worked at a bookstore a lady came in and asked to return a children's book about a kangaroo. She said there was a typo in it. The first page said the kangaroo "bounded" across the Outback, and the lady insisted it was supposed to read "bounced."

    I tried to be polite. We had a long discussion which involved me repeatedly asking her if she wanted to go to the reference section and look it up in a dictionary. Eventually she got embarrassed and left.

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    1. I once wrote a book where I used a fairly obscure word that was right, dictionary wise. The people in my critique group kept saying it was wrong. I started to correct them and prove it was right--but then I realized that if they didn't know the word, the readers wouldn't. So I changed it.

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  16. Haha you're talking to the queen of overcorrecting people! They don't call me the female Ted Mosby for nothing!

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    1. I try not to...although I do correct my husband sometimes. But only because he corrects me when I pronounce something incorrectly.

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  17. Thank God for freelancing. At least that guy is not teaching mathematics. That is all. xo

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  18. What a great post. And true....:)

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  19. I bet he wasn't so great at Englishematics either

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  20. No, I never have had to bite my tongue. It's not in my DNA. Those kind of folks are everywhere. They know everything and know nothing. Bless their hearts.

    Have a fabulous day. ☺

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  21. I loathe meetings. I'd rather stick needles in my fingers in search of gold. One of the reasons could be that I roll over very easily. I'm like you- whatever, just remove my name from it so when it crashes and burns I can say I told you so.

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  22. Usually, when I point out a mistake like that that someone else has made, his or her response is something along the lines of "It don't [sic] matter." *sigh*

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  23. Because I edit, I live on Merriam-Webster. I check everything against that site. Most people don't, though.

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  24. LOL! Some people think they know everything, and there's no arguing with them. It's nice to have the last laugh.

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  25. LOL!! Stephanie...that had me chortling and hoping not to spit my water back out...through my nose. I feel soooo sad for that man. Poor Bob.

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  26. I'm sure this has happened to us all at one point or another. I recall when I was in first grade and we were all supposed to draw a picture of a bird. So I drew a penguin. The teacher gave me an F and told me to see her after class. When I did she explained that I didn't listen because I was told to draw a bird. I told her the penguin is a bird. She didn't believe me so we looked it up. "Oh" she said. I don't recall, but I hope she gave me an A+.

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  27. I don't know if I could have bitten my tongue and let him have his way. Not on a spelling error like that one.

    There have been many other occasions where I had to sit on my hands and clench my teeth and remain silent over some stupidity by a higher up, but spelling "mathematics?" Aaaggghhhh.

    This guy probably also calls the upcoming holiday "Valentimes Day."

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  28. It's hard to let things go, but I've learned the fool usually proves it for themselves.

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  29. This is a tough situation for sure! If he is so sure, I think I would shake my head and say 'fine..it's your document!'

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  30. Depends on the situation. When it's with students, I will insist, because how else will they learn. Like today, when a student insisted something of mine was crocheted. Um, I'm the one who made it. I know how I made it. It was knit.

    But with other adults... Sometimes it's easier to let them be wrong loudly and in public.

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  31. It sounds frustrating.
    I do have to quiet myself around some people, but most I interact with are receptive to my suggestions and knowledge.
    Worse, the ones who are wrong do not admit it when they're showed the truth.

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  32. Though I realize the futility in arguing with an idiot, I'd stand my ground;-)

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  33. Did you ever watch Murphy Brown? Remember the Potato spelling incident with Dan Quayle? Dan Quayle-Mr Numnut spelled Potato incorrectly and then blasted the TV Show since she had a kid out of wedlock. Murphy Brown, the character, sent Quayle a truck load of potatoes. I have dealt with this on more than one occasion. It used to really bother me but now I sometimes have fun at their expense

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  34. Hey Stephanie,

    I get that red squiggly line if I try to spell in incorrect English as in American English :)

    Nice post and thanks for sharing!

    Gary

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  35. Wow. I can't believe... Okay, I do believe it. People get so set on something, there's no convincing them otherwise. Have a great rest of the week! :)

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    1. P.S. Thank you for your comment on my blog post today about marketing. Your advice is the best I've heard in a very long time. Now I just have to find something I really enjoy that counts as promoting! :)

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  36. I can totally relate to this post! I am sorry you had to have that meeting and deal with people who were fighting for things that were clearly wrong. At least your name wasn't on it. At work I once spoke up about a procedure we were supposed to follow if there was a bomb scare at work. We were supposed to turn the lights off. I spoke up and said that based on science you should leave the lights in whatever position they were already in (on or off) because changing them could create a spark. I was told that wasn't the correct thing to do and was argued with by my boss. I was firm (my boss was extremely unhappy). I said this is pure science, someone needs to look this up because people could get hurt. I felt exactly like you did in your meeting!

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  37. When I saw it written without the e, I instantly heard the accented pronunciation.
    Ever watch the show Better Off Ted? This seems like something that would have been an episode of that.

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  38. Some people are so sure of themselves you can't reason with them! It's frustrating, but it also sounds like something you're probably laughing about now...

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  39. *snort* this is an awesome story, even if it's quite depressing :) I'd never be one to suggest how to correctly spell something, and thank heavens for spell-check. But working with a ton of other people in my department has taught me how to keep my mouth shut!

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  40. I hated going to meetings. I went to one where we were supposed to offer our opinion, yet when I did, I was chastised. I never opened my mouth again (and people wonder why I'm so quiet).

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  41. Wow, and so that guy thought his spelling was above yours, Merriam Webster's and all dictionaries'? That must be a rare level of ignorant-confidence. For me, this doesn't happen at work, but at home. Whenever something is up (small or big events), my suggestions are not taken up. Often brushed aside (like 98% of the time) because certain members of the family prefer their own suggestions. If I insist, there will be an awkward silence. So now I don't offer suggestions. If they know I'm upset, they'd just ask why I hadn't spoken up. Uhm ... I did, several times, but apparently you didn't listen, or you did but chose not to care. The alternative is to have a fight every time there is an upcoming event, but honestly, I'd rather spend my time and energy elsewhere. (Reminds me of the quote: you don't have to show up to every battle you're invited to.)

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  42. It's funny how people insist they're right. Especially when you have Google to use to prove whether you're right or wrong. But battling if the letter "e" belongs in mathematics with such a person would've been exhausting. It's just better to walk away.

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  43. Sadly, yes. As a current guv'ment peon, I have to bite my tongue hard enough to draw blood because of what the mentally deficient that passes for supervisors stupidly insist upon doing.

    Father Nature's Corner

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  44. I am not good at biting my tongue but sometimes it is the wise thing to do as the argument just isn't worth the energy!

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