Site, Sight, and the Spell Check Syndrome
Today I found a plastic bag on my front door. A yellow sticker identified it as a bag for the Scouting Food Drive. Being a writer and a grammar nazi, I never just glance at things like this. It is my curse to read labels in their entirety.
In small print I was instructed to leave the bag, with food inside, “in plain site” on my porch.
My first surge of censure was for the Scout leaders who had submitted incorrect copy to the printer. The second surge was for the printer who hadn’t bothered to read the copy for errors before printing it. Then, at the very bottom of the sticker, I saw that the printing had been donated by a local corporate entity, a very large company with international sales. I’m sure it must employ educated people to see to such things as printing and advertising. So why “in plain site” and not, as the context called for, in plain sight?
I’d bet that the person responsible knows the difference between site and sight and would redden in embarrassment if called on it. I think the error is a symptom of Spell Check Syndrome.
Spell check catches only those misspellings that do not represent any word at all. It will catch such howlers as “recieve,” “seperate,” and “dalmation,” but not homonyms like site/sight, and rite/right.
Computers are great, but they are no substitute for the human brain. Run spell check by all means. But then run your own eyes over your writing before submitting it.
In its usual use, site (noun) is an area, a piece of ground, a place:
This is the site of a prehistoric village.
As a noun, sight is the sense of vision, or something seen:
Louis Braille lost his sight at the age of three.
A favorite tourist sight is the Tower of London.
Sight can also refer to the device on a gun that helps one to aim:
The sight on this rifle is slightly bent.
Sight can be a verb: Tell me when you sight the buffalo herd.
Sight occurs in several idioms:
Keep the enemy in sight.
You’re a sight for sore eyes (i.e., a welcome sight).
His newest book is out of sight (beyond comparison)! (slang)
Dear me, you look a sight (have a bedraggled or disreputable appearance)!
They’ve got a sight of grandchildren (a great many). (dialect)
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