Word of the week: That

October 29, 2020 Tim Glynne-Jones

No, my expletive loving friends, that’s not a typo, though it might well be, as I will explain. This week I really am taking up your valuable bandwidth with a few comments on that unassuming little pronoun/adverb/determiner/conjunction that is ‘that’.

In over three decades of writing and editing for a living, I’ve come across a lot of typos. One million, two hundred and forty three thousand, six hundred and twenty tow – make that twenty three – at the last count. Of all those many typos, one recurs more than any other. See if you can guess what it is.

No, not ‘broccoli’. Not ‘Morocco’ either. Not even ‘separate’, ‘accommodate’ or ‘gauge’. The word that gets misspelled more than any other is ‘that’.

“What? How? Why?” you’re probably thinking. How can anyone misspell a word as simple as ‘that’? In fact, it’s not a case of misspelling ‘that’ in the sense of being unable to spell it, but in the sense of spelling it when you should be spelling something else – specifically ‘than’.

Comparative phrases such as ‘more than’, ‘rather than’ etc become ‘more that’, ‘rather that’ and so on. Why? I’ll tell you why.
It’s all to do with a small wiring fault that occurs in an area of the brain known as the Conjunctive Nebula, which lies somewhere between the Cerebral Aurora and Shatner’s Bassoon. While your mind puts together a sentence such as, “You are older than me,” this glitch causes you to write, “You are older that me.”

Watch out for it. You’ll start seeing it everywhere.

Apart from here, of course.

You’ve read the blog, now buy the book. Word of the Week: Volume One (a collection of 52 words) is available in paperback from word-of-the-week.com