Two Words: Were / Where

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Has anyone else noticed a recent uptick in the frequency with which people misspell “where” as “were”?

That is, leaving out the “h”? Resulting in written sentences like “I wonder were I left my car keys?”

I’ve seen this a lot recently. In emails. In text messages. Even in supposedly well-edited articles in newspapers and magazines.

To me this seems new. It isn’t anything I noticed much until the past year or two – and I tend to spot such trends. Words are my thing!

What jars me about this trend (if it is a trend) is that the perpetrators often are people who seem otherwise proficient at spelling, syntax, grammar, and writing in general.

The substitution is obvious in written text, but less so in speech. I suspect, though, that someone who writes “I wonder were I left my car keys” also would drop the “h” in speaking. It’s just that the ear doesn’t then pick it up: “I wonder ware I left my car keys.”

(Even folks who replace “where” with “were” still pronounce it to rhyme with “air”. Normally the word “were” – past tense of “are” – rhymes with “stir” or “her”.)

Less frequently (yet often enough), I’ve also seen people replacing “were” with “where”! As in “I wish I where rich so I could buy you a fancy house!”

Carried through consistently, these substitutions could lead to constructions such as “Were where you when the World Trade Center collapsed?”

Two points in defense of folks who make were/where substitution mistakes:

First, because both words are spelled correctly, this isn’t the sort of thing we can rely on spell-check software and auto-correcting keyboards to catch.

Second, the “wh” letter combination is inherently confusing because it isn’t phonetic. If words like “where” and “when” where were spelled as they are pronounced, we’d write them as “hwere” and “hwen”! That is, the “h” sound comes before the “w”.

Come to think of it, I’ve also noticed more people writing “when” as “wen”. Maybe that misplaced “h” is finally catching up with us!

(This article is part of my series on words that are #worth1000pictures.)

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